Cleaning Up the Mississippi River in MN

Written by Paul “Spice” Twedt of Adventure Stewardship Alliance

Rain falls, rivers rise, paddlers float swiftly by.

Eagles soar above, pike strike the water’s surface, and idle paddlers pick up trash,

while the neighbors go on mowing their lawns.

The changing landscape of the Mississippi River has brought us through vastly varying ecosystems, from a tiny stream – clear and cold as any mountain creek, through wild rice marshes and across large lakes, through dense mixed woodlands of conifers and deciduous forests, across prairies and farmlands and even into floodplain forest.

Now we face yet another distinctly different ecosystem as we paddle into the metropolis of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Oversized and expensive houses (Mansions with too many lawn mowers mowing their too-short grass and even their concrete driveways at times) cover much of the riverbanks as we approached the Twin Cities, followed by industrial operations as we get even closer. A 1.5 mile portage down a bike path through downtown Minneapolis really rang the bell, the looks of disbelief on the faces of pedestrians showed us that we were out of the ordinary and even more out of our element.

This river is not wild here, having been heavily dredged to uniform depth and bound by dams. Although upon reaching the river gorge that follows St. Anthony Falls it surely appears wild once more. The sounds of airplanes and traffic persist above us, with massive bridge pylons towering up to the top of the Mississippi’s only true gorge. Dams hold the water in large pools of powerful swirling eddies although naturally this would likely have been nearly whitewater. Downstream from this starts the Army Corps of Engineers’ series of 27 locks and dams for river control and barge transportation and while the river will continue to grow from here, so too will the industrialized use.

This summer’s Three Rivers Expedition is nearing an end as we are currently home in the Twin Cities area for a brief rest with friends before embarking to finish our intended journey. As intended, we will paddle the remaining 174 miles of Minnesota’s largest waterway, at which point our journey together will end near the small town of Victory, WI (ironic? We think not), and Michael’s solo journey down the remainder of the Mississippi will begin.

Thus far, we have removed over 237 pounds of litter from 442 miles of the upper Mississippi, a surprisingly clean river throughout its headwaters. Bringing our current total mileage paddled this summer to 982 miles and total trash removed from the rivers up to 5,956 pounds. Yet there are miles to go before we complete our journey and much treasure, trash, and truth to be found along the way.

Happy trails,

Paul ‘Spice’ Twedt

 

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