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The 2012 Summer of Paddling included 300 canoeing and kayaking events and involved all refuges near the Mississippi River. Here, interns Isaac Coleman and Rachel George and a young boy explore Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge in northern Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Eva Kristific

The 2012 Summer of Paddling included 300 canoeing and kayaking events and involved all refuges near the Mississippi River. Here, interns Isaac Coleman and Rachel George and a young boy explore Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge in northern Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Eva Kristific.

A Full-River Approach Along the Mississippi

Mark Twain wrote that the Mississippi River “is in all ways remarkable.”

More than three dozen national wildlife refuges in two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regions in 10 states are teaming up with the Mississippi River Connections Collaborative and the National Geographic Society to publicize the river’s remarkability, its recreational opportunities and its importance to fish and wildlife.

The Service and the National Park Service are co-chairs of the collaborative, which includes the Mississippi River Parkway Commission (overseer of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway) and the Mississippi River Trail (for bicycles and pedestrians).

Steve Gard, manager at North Mississippi Refuges Complex, has represented the Service’s Southeast Region on the collaborative since its inception in 2010. Sabrina Chandler, manager at Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, represents the Midwest Region.

“It is without a doubt one of the largest landscape-level projects within either of the two regions,” Gard says of the collaborative, whose value to the Service is twofold. It fosters conservation along the Mississippi, and it promotes awareness of and visitation to refuges.

The collaborative takes a “full-river approach,” says Chandler. “For us, that fits perfectly in a lot of our strategies in the Refuge System.” It encourages landscape-scale conservation from the river’s headwaters in Minnesota to its mouth in Louisiana.

“It covers the Mississippi Flyway, which is the largest flyway in the United States,” says Gard. “It connects refuge managers with other land managers from the Park Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Forest Service and the 10 states.” The work of the collaborative also is of political interest to 20 U.S. senators and three dozen House members.

Regarding visitation, the collaborative hosts events with yearly themes. All three dozen-plus refuges are involved to some degree, but Upper Mississippi River Refuge in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa; Two Rivers Refuge in Illinois and Missouri; and Dahomey Refuge in Mississippi have staff members dedicated to working with the collaborative: Cindy Samples at Upper Mississippi River, Amber Breland at Dahomey and Cortney Solum at Two Rivers.

This is the Year of Fishing, which kicked off with an ice fishing event at Upper Mississippi River Refuge in February and will include dozens of angling events at refuges along the river.

In 2012, the collaborative coordinated the Summer of Paddling. “That was huge for us,” Chandler says of the paddling theme, which included 300 canoeing and kayaking events and involved all refuges near the river.

“I would guess that 95 percent of the people who came to the paddling events had never been to the refuge, nor did they even know of it,” says Gard. “The events are designed to show them what’s out there and say we’re open to the public.”

Last year’s theme was the Year of Geotourism, which is defined as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place – its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents.”

As an offshoot, the National Geographic’s Mississippi River Corridor Geotourism Program, which is sponsored by the collaborative, is scheduled to be fully operational late next year. It will include a one-stop-shopping website “designed to show the public what’s out there that’s sustainable – and by that we mean the ma-and-pop cafes, the little bed-and-breakfasts, the small events. It’s designed to highlight those things that are publicly owned or privately owned in the communities,” says Gard. “A person going to that website who’s thinking about traveling to the Mississippi River will be able to click on a refuge.”

For more information about the Mississippi River Connections Collaborative, go to http://mr-cc.org/. For a preview of National Geographic’s Mississippi River Corridor Geotourism Program, go to http://mississippiriver.natgeotourism.com/.

By Bill O’Brian
Refuge Update

Republished by permission from Refuge Update

The Mississippi River Connections Collaborative coordinates yearly themed events up and down the river. This is the Year of Fishing, which kicked off with ice fishing in February at Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Minnesota. Photo by USFWS.

The Mississippi River Connections Collaborative coordinates yearly themed events up and down the river. This is the Year of Fishing, which kicked off with ice fishing in February at Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Minnesota. Photo by USFWS.


Last updated: June 4, 2015