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Big Muddy NFWR River Display on the Move across Missouri
Midwest Region, January 30, 2010
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Visitors to the River Display Trailer observe the flow of water and sediment through the scale model of the Missouri River. Displays on the walls interpret the refuge and river. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
Visitors to the River Display Trailer observe the flow of water and sediment through the scale model of the Missouri River. Displays on the walls interpret the refuge and river. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo) - Photo Credit: n/a
Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge River Display outside of the Great Rivers Museum in Alton, Illinois. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge River Display outside of the Great Rivers Museum in Alton, Illinois. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo) - Photo Credit: n/a

On a frigid Saturday, Jan. 30, a unique hydrology display had its d├ębut performance at the Missouri Department of Conservation sponsored Day with Wildlife event in Linn, Missouri, the county seat of Osage County.

The exhibit, a table top working model of a section of the Missouri River bordered by the Lisbon Bottoms and Jameson Island Units of the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge (NFWR) was popular with school age children and adults. 

The model, built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) at their Applied River Engineering Center in St. Louis, was donated to the Big Muddy NFWR when the USACE had completed a series of public meetings to inform the public about river engineering and habitat restoration projects. 

Big Muddy NFWR Manager Tom Bell, a participant in several of those public meetings, became aware the Corps planned to disassemble the exhibit and salvage plumbing, pumps and other parts for future modeling projects.  When Bell inquired about the possibility of loaning the model to the Refuge for outreach programs, he was pleasantly surprised the Corps offered to transfer the $30,000 model to the Refuge permanently.  We were delighted!

 

There remained much to be done to adapt the model for Refuge use.  Big Muddy NFWR Park Ranger Tim Haller took the lead in developing a truly mobile exhibit.  Working with assistance from Maintenance Worker Randy Stenberg, Administrative Officer Molly Comstock and several STEP employees, Park Ranger Haller created an exhibit we can take to outreach events the entire 367 mile length of Big Muddy NFWR, and beyond.

Housed in a sixteen foot cargo trailer, the display provides the public a viewpoint of sediment transport and deposition in the Missouri River.  The exhibit is a scale recreation of the Lisbon Bottom side channel, the partially constructed side channel on the Jameson Island Unit, the engineered sandbar complex at Jameson and the main stem Missouri River between mile marker 209 and 219. 

 

The Jameson Island project, when completed, will be a two mile long constructed side channel on the Jameson Island Unit of the Big Muddy NFWR.  The project, approximately 30% complete, is on hold due to controversy about features designed to introduce sediment to the Missouri River. 

The Corps employees at the Applied River Engineering Center use scaled models to demonstrate sediment and debris transport, erosion and deposition in a variety of conditions. This model is also intended to demonstrate the development of shallow water habitat, the function of navigation control structures and navigation capability on the Missouri River.

 

The 3.5 feet high by 9 feet long and 3 feet wide display fits nicely into the 16 foot cargo trailer.  The trailer provides enough room for people to walk completely around the model.  The trailer was first used to transport the model from St. Louis to its new home in Columbia.  Originally designed to be operated in a lab, it took some creative plumbing to make the display operable in remote locations, sometimes in cold weather. 

Park Ranger Tim Haller successfully addressed the challenges posed by the requirements of a mobile display featuring flowing water and sediment.  Challenges included wiring the trailer to use electricity from house current or a portable generator, plumbing that can survive extensive travel, developing a self contained water source, and a leveling system.  The leveling system includes four scissor jacks and a cordless drill outfitted with a socket adapter to raise and lower the jacks.

Developing a secure source of water, especially for cold weather use, presented another challenge.   A small sump pump is used to pump water from an exterior tank into the internal display tank.  The process is reversed to drain the display.  When deployed near a water source, a hose is used to supply the display tank.  In most display situations the sump pump is used.

 

On its maiden voyage another challenge faced the display.  Temperatures in the low teens threatened to freeze up the display before it could be ready to show.  A small space heater placed inside the display kept the water from freezing and brought the trailers interior temperature to a more comfortable level.  Warmer temperatures at events this spring have eliminated the need for the space heater.

 

The display is accessed via a sturdy portable staircase and door on the side of the trailer, or from the rear of the trailer by way of a drop down ramp.  So far reception of this dynamic traveling display has been enthusiastic.  Sediment is represented by material used in sandblasting.  Students can manipulate tiny wing dams to observe the effects on sediment transport, erosion and deposition. 

The interactive features of this display seem to be equally interesting to adults.  The exhibit has functioned well as an icebreaker with visitors.  Conversations about the exhibit lend themselves to discussions about big river hydrology, floodplain management, fish and wildlife conservation issues and recreation. 

The Big Muddy NFWR looks forward to the long term use of the display to interpret the ecosystem and hydrology of the Missouri River and its adjacent floodplain.  The display will help the public understand manmade alterations to the river as well as natural processes.  The model has been a great tool for interpreting management issues and actions on the Missouri River to the public.


Contact Info: Tim Haller, 573-441-2799, tim_haller@fws.gov



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