Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Celebrating a Century Cruise Spotlights Refuges on the Upper Mississippi River
Midwest Region, August 2, 2003
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Members of the Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region delivered their conservation message to new audiences along the Upper Mississippi River during a week-long, marathon celebration of the Centennial of the National Wildlife Refuge System July 26 to Aug. 2.

The festivities centered around a special, ?Celebrating a Century of Conservation? theme cruise aboard the riverboat American Queen sponsored by Historic Tours and Cruises, Inc., and the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. More than 430 passengers aboard the luxury riverboat joined thousands more in the storied river towns of Hannibal, Mo., Dubuque, Iowa, La Crosse, Wis., and Wabasha, Minn., for special events that highlighted refuges on the Upper Mississippi River and celebrated the enduring contribution of wildlife refuges to the region's quality of life.

The Region 3 centennial event engaged staff and volunteers from the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, Regional Sign Shop, Mark Twain Refuge Complex and Regional Office. Outreach materials and displays were provided from other Service regions and other Service programs, making this event a true national Centennial event.

Onboard events kicked off July 26 in St. Louis, Mo., where President Teddy Roosevelt, (aka Jim Foote) welcomed passengers boarding the American Queen. Throughout the cruise, Park Rangers Cindy Samples and Pam Steinhaus served as on-board Centennial hosts, conducting a variety of education and interpretive programs for passengers. Daily birding workshops, refuge system videos and other activities exposed passengers the refuge system while they cruised through units of the Mark Twain Refuge complex and the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Other on-board highlights included presentations by T.R., (Foote), Kenny Salwey, author of ?The Last River Rat,? Jon Stravers of Audubon's Upper Mississippi River campaign speaking on the Mysteries of the Backwaters. Refuge photography by Karen Hollingsworth was displayed throughout the cruise. Hollingsworth also signed copies of the Smithsonian Book of National Wildlife Refuges. Many aboard the riverboat took advantage of photo opportunities with Teddy Roosevelt (Jim Foote) and Puddles, the Region 3 Blue Goose mascot.

Cruisers were also asked to locate and mark their hometown on a map of the refuge system. By the end of the cruise, more than 500 pins had been placed on the map. ?We wanted let these people know that they have a refuge close to where they live?.many people learned just how close they lived to a refuge,? Samples said.

In addition to onboard events, the cruise highlighted the river's navigation channel, or ?blue highway,? that flows through the refuge. The channel also connects more than 70 communities that tout the beauty and wildlife of the area.

?Having a centennial celebration on-board the American Queen and at the larger port cities was a way to reach thousands of people without hindering the habitat and wildlife the refuge protects,? said Samples, who was the primary refuge force behind the cruise event. ?Sometimes events are planned and facilities just can?t handle the throngs of people that come. This event seemed to fit the bill of reaching the public without creating undue stress on the wildlife we conserve and protect.?

After a day of steamboatin? the American Queen put in to Hannibal, Mo., where cruisers joined locals and tourists for a riverside event that featured a live raptor program from the St. Louis based World Bird Sanctuary, live old-time music and an entertaining presentation on bird and animal calls by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Two days later, cruisers joined in a celebration of conservationist Ding Darling at the National River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa. The day-long Ding Darling Day event drew 3,000 people and featured more than 20 interactive activities and displays staffed by members of the Upper Mississippi River refuges, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Audubon Society and National Park Service. Visitors were also offered tours aboard Audubon's outreach vessel, the Lilly Belle. The U.S. Postal Service operated a temporary philatelic station with special commemorative envelopes, Pelican Island stamps and special Ding Darling Day cancellation stamps.

During the event's formal program, Liz Christiansen, deputy director of the Iowa DNR spoke on the strong partnership between Iowa and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and read a proclamation by Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack declaring July 28, 2003 as ?Ding Darling Day? in Iowa. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, in a letter read during the program, said, ?We can be grateful for a refuge system that has done a great job in protecting and preserving those parts of our natural landscape most representative of the best our nation has to offer. We must rededicate ourselves to a second century of keeping those special places for future generations to enjoy.?

Regional Director Robyn Thorson recognized the lasting contributions of Iowa natives Ding Darling and Aldo Leopold to America's conservation ethic. Thorson also recognized nearby Quad Cities native Chad Pregracke, who, with his non-profit organization ?Living Land and Waters,? has removed more than 800 tons of trash from the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio Rivers. ?I?m speechless,? Pregracke said. ?To be even mentioned in the same context with Darling and Leopold is awesome. What an honor.?

Speeches by Wisconsin representative Ron Kind and USFWS Refuges Chief Bill Hartwig were part of the formal program at Riverview Park in La Crosse, Wis., July 30. A highlight of the formal program was the unveiling of the Wisconsin Centennial Quilt, which contained beautiful embroidered images of the blue goose and other wildlife native to the state. Again, numerous refuge partners such as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Izaak Walton League, Friends of the Upper Mississippi River Refuges joined in the day-long celebration. The U.S. Postal Service offered special ?La Crosse, WI? cancellations on commemorative Upper Miss Refuge Centennial envelopes.

The Upper Mississippi River Refuge partnered with the National Eagle Center for the final port city event in Wabasha, Minn. In addition to a formal program of speakers, this two-day event featured live raptor demonstrations, live music, Native American crafts and commercial vendors. Hundreds of people braved a scorching August sun to witness the release of a live bald eagle to wild. Refuge manager Don Hultman, Refuge Biologist Eric Nelson joined National Eagle Center Director Marybeth Garrigan in delivering remarks during the formal program. Refuge staff provided special refuge backwater tours to the public.

"The events onboard and on-shore were wonderful, and quite a pleasant surprise for many of the cruisers," said Don Eslinger, president of Historic Tours and Cruises, Inc., who sponsored the "Celebrating and Century" themed cruise. "The great events at the port city stops were great, and were things many of the cruisers never before experienced. With so much going on, I never had time to even think about booking other shore tours."

Eslinger also said the success of the tour has opened doors for future cruises and outreach events with the boat company.

The American Queen is one of three riverboats operated by the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. The impressive vessels carry thousands of passengers up and down the Mississippi River and through units of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and the Mark Twain Refuge Complex. Most passengers and crew were not event aware that they were traveling through a wildlife refuge. Until now.

Contact Info: Larry Dean, 612-713-5312, Larry_Dean@fws.gov
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