POSTED: Monday, January 21, 2013 - 5:00am
UPDATED: Monday, January 21, 2013 - 5:04am
Minneapolis, MN — In a move symbolic of the collaboration he says is needed to save the Mississippi River, Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne traveled from the Mississippi’s delta to its headwaters this week to address a group of national river leaders. Speaking only a “doubloons throw away from the third longest river in the world,” Dardenne provided a unique perspective of the Mississippi River, combining a lively historical discussion with an emphasis on the river’s importance to the nation.
Dardenne spoke Thursday before THE BIG RIVER WORKS forum in Minneapolis, the fourth in a series of five leadership meetings held by the America’s WETLAND Foundation that are dedicated to the future of the Mississippi River. Dardenne serves as co-chair of the initiative, along with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. The purpose of the BIG RIVER WORKS is to encourage more cooperative management of the Mississippi River system, which has been stressed to the breaking point by the many demands that have been placed on it for centuries.
In a presentation entitled, “The Big River: A Grand American Attraction—History, Community, Culture and Tourism,” Dardenne characterized the Mississippi River as a powerful force in the development of the nation’s economy. “It was the portal to exploration and it was the literal vessel that enabled America to develop into an agrarian society and transform itself into a mechanized, industrial society.”
Backed up by clips of tunes such as ‘Old Man River’ by Paul Robeson and Randy Newman’s ‘Louisiana,’ Dardenne described the river’s many different faces. “From its rather humble origin at Lake Itasca here in Minnesota, where one can literally walk across the river, to more southerly spots where the river stretches for more than a mile, literally separating states, the Mississippi has become the geographic, economic and cultural focal point of the greatest nation in the world.“
The theme of Thursday’s meeting was “Reconnecting Communities to the Big River.” In addition to Dardenne, the program featured several experts who reiterated the river’s importance and the cooperative effort needed to sustain that value for future generations.
Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited, outlined the Mississippi’s strong national assets: agriculture, energy, navigation and the environment. Hall echoed an overall theme of the day’s conversation when he noted that to save the river, all of its users must be respected. He said that everyone must realize they have a stake in the river’s health. “I’ll tell you the three most beautiful words you can hear about the Mississippi: ‘It’s my river,’” Hall said.
Addressing the need for more cooperative practices, Dave Legvold, a Minnesota farmer and former director of the Canon River Watershed, talked about ways that farmers are working together with agronomy service providers and others to improve water quality along the river. “When you do research on the farms and then work with farmers to implement data-driven practices, then farmers can immediately see the benefits in terms of better soil, better yields, and cleaner water.” said Legvold.
Paul Labovitz, Superintendent of the Mississippi River National River and Recreation Area, and Whitney Clark, Executive Director of the Minnesota-based Friends of the Mississippi organization, both spoke to the importance of human contact with the river. “Years ago, the river wasn’t an attraction – it was a sewage-laden industrial byway, but we’ve come a long way. Now in Minneapolis, you’re likely to see a band of voyager canoes full of school kids paddling along the banks,” said Clark, whose organization works closely with Labovitz and the Park to educate both young people and adults on the value of the Mississippi.
Forum participants agreed that the river’s sustainability depends on a new vision for its future. That vision, they said, must be equal to the Mississippi’s tremendous historical legacy and its ongoing significance to the nation. And the only way to get there, said Dardenne, is to spread the message that the Mississippi is still one of America’s greatest treasures.
He encouraged attendees of the forum to continue to look for ways to sustain and protect the river. “My hope is that this Big River Works initiative will enable us to harness this great natural resource, to preserve it, to protect it and to make certain it contributes to the future vitality of America’s economy,” he said. “The time to act is now.”