The Mississippi River, as a natural phenomenon, is a wild place: a real sandy, muddy, windy, wet, cold, hot, exciting and dangerous place but with few soft edges. It’s all of those things, the balance between raw, elemental forces of the natural world and the inviting hospitality of the water, that make kids and adults alike seek the River. They seek challenges, experience, and the opportunity to learn more about their country, their natural surroundings, and themselves. The River’s 1155 miles of free-flowing water makes paddlers’ eyes water and go dreamy, something that is hard to find in this country.
- John Ruskey, owner of Quapaw Canoe Company and river enthusiast, Clarksdale, Mississippi
When I was young I saw the Mississippi as a magic beautiful place, and other people would tell me it’s just a dirty old river. I thought, well, we can do something about that. I see the river as a big park, 2300 miles long, full of wildlife and nature, really cool towns and interesting old buildings. I honestly think the Upper Mississippi is one of the most underestimated destinations in the country. You’ll see the river is always changing—from slow water to fast water in a very short period of time, from a group of boaters having fun to being all by yourself on a quiet stretch of river, with the landscape changing all the time as you pass through. I think every family ought to, once in their lives, rent a houseboat and stay a few nights on a sandbar.
- Chad Pregracke, founder of Living Lands & Waters based in East Moline, Illinois, which organizes river clean-ups in communities along Mississippi.
Shipping terminals and heavy industry have long defined the built environment of river towns. But increasingly, communities along the Mississippi are discovering that the river's enduring value lies in its ecological richness, its stunning scenery and a sense of place that is powerful and intoxicating. Many of these communities are now working to redevelop their riverfronts to take advantage of the river's charms. New, parks, trails and public-spirited redevelopment reconnect residents and visitors alike to the life of the river. From ancient burial mounds of the Mississippian and Hopewell cultures to bald eagles surveying the flowing water from the branches of massive cottonwoods, the Mississippi's inherent value as a river may in the end be just what we need right now.
- Whitney Clark is Executive Director of Friends of the Mississippi River