The Mississippi River has come a long way since Huck Finn went rafting down the banks of the waterway that flows from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
In that time, the Great River has transitioned from steamboat commerce to broader agricultural and industrial development. But time hasn’t been a friend to the communities that sit on the shores of the second-longest river in the country: Pollution levels rose steadily and development destroyed much of the natural wildlife that used to grace its shores.
However, in recent decades, different riverfront-development organizations have sprung up along the Mississippi River that have helped boost communities’ economies, promote recreation, and stem the flow of pollution.
One of those groups is River Action — a small nonprofit outfit based in Davenport, Iowa, one of the cities in Illinois and Iowa that make up the Quad Cities area along the Mississippi and Rock Rivers. The area has a long industrial history, having served as the hub for John Deere, an agriculture machinery company.
Now in its 30th year, the group not only leads educational efforts about the important waterway, but also seeks federal and state grants for projects that help boost local commerce and the environment. A new focus on riverfront development has made downtown areas on both sides of Mississippi River enjoy booming housing and business, all without forgetting its industrial past. Now, the Quad Cities area is seen as one of the most affordable areas in the country, ranking second in the nation for beating the housing bubble.
“We want to get people to the river to get that first-hand personal experience,” said Amy Bandman, program director at River Action. “We can create better stewards of the environment by our rivers through these educational and environmental projects.”
One of the biggest issues facing the Quad Cities is the environmental damage that decades of agriculture, relying heavily on pesticides, have done to the area water, wildlife, marshes, and wetlands. In order to deal with these runoff pollutants — fertilizers, chemicals, oil, grease, sediment, salts, and bacteria — River Action worked with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency on several recent projects.
To prevent these pollutants from entering the Rock River, in this latest example, the group provided funding and managed the restoration of a stream bank and native plants on a commercial drainage ditch in Rock Island, Ill. Additionally, it helped build rain gardens on a Black Hawk College parking lot in Moline, Ill., and also worked on restoring wetlands and streams in a nature preserve in the same town. This sort of wetland restoration is happening all over the country, not just along the Mississippi River.
Beyond these programs, River Action has been key to developing more than 65 miles of riverfront biking and walking trails in the Quad Cities area. When the organization was founded 30 years ago, there were only two miles of trails.
“The city of Davenport doesn’t have the time or money to put into a project like this, but the organization can do that,” Bandman said. “We make the changes happen. We bring everyone together to do it.”
When Father’s Day rolls around in June — right about the time that weather starts to get consistently warm in the Midwest — the group hosts an event called Ride the River for families to enjoy the trails, along with picnics, fishing, and games. The event starts in the morning in downtown Davenport, as hundreds of people ride up to Bettendorf, Iowa, cross the river on a barge, and finish on the Illinois side. All of the proceeds for the event go toward future trail development, and the events bring in sponsorship from local businesses.
Bringing people to the riverfront, where local shops and restaurants sit, allows businesses to thrive in these communities along the Mississippi River. Also, since the community gets much of its water from the river, using better environmental practices in the area in turn creates cleaner water and saves tax dollars.
The Mississippi River, however, is still one of the most polluted waterways in the United States. But River Action is just one of the many groups trying to improve the environment and the economics of riverfront towns that Mark Twain once called “pleasing to the eye, and cheering to the spirit.”
What We're Following See More »
Given the Senate's inaction on the continuing budget resolution (so far), the White House "said it has begun to work with agencies to prepare for the possibility of a large swath of the federal workforce being furloughed without pay beginning at midnight." Even if a shutdown occurs, however, "Senate procedures will allow the chamber to approve the CR with only a handful of Democrats in support by Sunday morning. Of the roughly 900,000 federal employees who were subject to furloughs in agencies’ most recent calculations, most would not be materially impacted as they do not work on weekends."
President Obama has called for a "full review" of the hacking that took place during the 2016 election cycle, according to Obama counterterrorism and homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco. Intelligence officials say it is highly likely that Russia was behind the hacking. The results are not necessarily going to be made public, but will be shared with members of Congress.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are threatening to block the spending bill—and prevent the Senate from leaving town—"because it would not extend benefits for retired coal miners for a year or pay for their pension plans. The current version of the bill would extend health benefits for four months. ... Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Thursday afternoon moved to end debate on the continuing resolution to fund the government through April 28. But unless Senate Democrats relent, that vote cannot be held until Saturday at 1 a.m. at the earliest, one hour after the current funding measure expires."
The South Korean parliament voted on Friday morning to impeach President Park Geun-hye over charges of corruption, claiming she allowed undue influence to a close confidante of hers. Ms. Park is now suspended as president for 180 days. South Korea's Constitutional Court will hear the case and decide whether to uphold or overturn the impeachment.