A tribute to Dave Durenberger

David Durenberger, in a suit and speaking behind a microphone at Water Action Day at the Minnesota Capitol rotunda in 2018. 

David Durenberger, speaking at Water Action Day at the Minnesota Capitol rotunda in 2018. 

Today, we lost a dear friend, not only to Friends of the Mississippi River but all of Minnesota: environmental and public health champion, David Durenberger.

In the coming days, many articles and posts will surely celebrate the former U.S. Senator's achievements in public life. FMR had a special connection to Dave because he was the Senate sponsor of the legislation creating our national park, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA).

Over three terms in the US Senate, Dave was an outspoken advocate for national parks and other public lands. He helped secure appropriations to implement the landmark Boundary Waters Canoe Area Act of 1978, authored critical Clean Air and Water Act amendments, and was the driving force behind numerous other important pieces of environmental legislation and appropriations. 

As Peter Gove, one of FMR's founders and someone who worked with Dave Durenberger for over 50 years said, "Dave played a critical role in many of the environmental laws and parks we take for granted today.  Without him the Clean Air and Water Acts would be weaker, Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and other beloved metro parks and trails, may not have been protected.  And when it comes to the Mississippi River, it's impossible to overstate his impact.”

Indeed. Durenberger along with the late Congressman Bruce Vento worked together to protect the Mississippi River beginning in 1979. In 1988, Durenberger, and Vento, led the effort to designate our metro river as a national park. (You can see Dave speaking to this in the documentary Rebirth.)  

This designation ultimately led to the creation of FMR, which Dave actively and generously supported over the years. With a warmth and humility that belied his many achievements, he served on our Council of Advisors and pitched in on many occasions in support of FMR’s public policy advocacy work.

“Dave never said no to a request to help the Mississippi River. He was always generous with his time and many contacts. Over the years he’s become a trusted advisor and friend. He’ll be deeply missed.”

At one pivotal juncture, for example, Dave prepared and delivered testimony before an Administrative Law Judge to support the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area state rulemaking, an FMR-instigated initiative. Today, this important framework guides riverfront development in all 25 Twin City river communities. 

Just this month/in February, St. Paul is in the process of adopting a new Critical Area Ordinance, protecting the river’s natural values and scenic views. The new ordinance will also include bird-safe design requirements for buildings in the corridor to reduce avian collisions. This will protect the many birds that rely on our metro river flyway and set an important precedent for development in other cities with riverfront habitats in the process.  

This is just one real-world example among innumerable positive ripples of Dave's legacy. His loss will be deeply felt by a large community of advocates and friends, including all of us at FMR. 

One of our favorite Dave moments: 'Grandpa we found your face!'

Click in the video below to see one of our favorite Dave Durenberger moments, as his grandchildren spot him in the permanent Mississippi River exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. (Thank you filmmaker John Kaul.)

Upcoming Events

Tuesday, June 25, 2024 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Nicollet Island, Minneapolis
New date: Saturday, August 10, 2024 at 5 p.m.
Hidden Falls Regional Park, St. Paul
Wednesday, August 14, 2024 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific & Natural Area, Inver Grove Heights