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Working to protect the Mississippi River and its watershed in the Twin Cities area
Photo: National Park Service/MNRRA
How can one begin to convey the vastness of the Mississippi River? The “Great Water” of the Anishinaabeg flows through literature as a refuge for Twain’s Huck Finn; through history as a gateway and a conduit for migration and trade; and through the North American continent as a key migratory corridor and a vast watershed. As a metaphor, the Mississippi has represented both lazy calm and overwhelming might.
The Mississippi River is one of the world’s great rivers — Only Africa’s Nile, South America’s Amazon, and Asia’s Chang Jiang (Yangtze) are longer than the Mississippi–Missouri system. The Mississippi is the defining geographic feature of central North America, draining all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces. And it is a natural resource of global significance — Neotropical songbirds and over 40% of North America’s ducks, geese, swans and wading birds rely on the Mississippi River as a flyway, providing them direction, resting places, and food for epic seasonal migrations. Almost invariably, visitors to Minnesota — from across the country and around the world — make it a point to see the Mississippi during their stays.
Here in Minnesota’s Twin Cities region, the Mississippi provides recreational opportunities and a sense of place for millions of residents and visitors from around the world. Its numerous riverside parks and trails are used for hiking, biking, fishing and bird watching. It provides our drinking water and spurred the growth of our cities and economies. The majority of Twin Cities residents consider the river essential to our quality of life. Many of us pass by or over it daily, though we may not always take the time to appreciate it.
Unfortunately, the Upper Mississippi River is losing much of its ecological vitality — the very qualities that make it such an important part of our communities. Water quality is impaired in 82% of the river from the headwaters in north central Minnesota to Iowa’s Quad Cities. Fish may be eaten without restriction from only 15% of Upper Mississippi waters. Poor water quality and loss of habitat due to development are limiting the river’s ability to support life. Plant and animal species are declining dramatically.
Explore this section of our site to discover the rich ecology and history of our great river (“misi-ziibi”), then join us in our efforts to protect and enhance this vital natural treasure.
The Mississippi River Field Guide offers fascinating details about hundreds of sites along the river in the Twin Cities metro area. Visit the Field Guide!