TRIPPIN’ ON THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI
Welcome to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, The Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, the Lost Mound Unit and the Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge. You will find them amidst the commercial, social and cultural activities at the Heart of America
THE UNGLACIATED AREA
The Upper Miss Refuges are smack dab in the middle of a fourstate complex along the Upper Mississippi called the Driftless or Unglaciated Area. It is an island left behind by the last two glacial invasions. The surrounding layers of sedimentary rock formed in the huge lake beds were subjected to the scouring action of glacial melt waters, leaving this area untouched. Then the floodwaters from the melting glaciers eroded the bluffs, carving steep coulees out of the high rocky plateau which had been missed by the advance of the glaciers. The high flood waters also left the sand prairie terraces and backwaters along this section of the Mississippi. These unique features are what makes it a very special “wildlife and fish” habitat, and why it is so attractive to people for boating, fishing, birding and road trips.
PEOPLE, TOWNS AND CULTURE
The broad purpose of the Road Trip described in this book is to introduce you to the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuges and their environs. It is designed to make the Refuges more accessible to you within the range and limits set under law and public regulation. It will also introduce you to the work of the Friends of the Upper Mississippi River Refuges, the organization that brings you this Road Trip book. Friends organizations are part of a national movement in support of wildlife refuges. More than 250 U.S.groups support wildlife refuges through initiatives like public education, contacts with senators and congressmen, grants to local refuges and volunteering on conservation projects.
The plan of the Road Trip is to take you through this ecocultural complex using the cities and towns as the main “mileposts” on the road. The road miles for both the northsouth and the southnorth trips(the two sides of the Mississippi which make up the total round trip) are the distances of these cities, towns and villages from the starting points of the Road Trip. It is 273 road miles from the Chippewa River Overlook above Read’s Landing in Minnesota, to the Fred Swengel Memorial Bridge (I80) below Le Claire, Iowa. It is 313.6 road miles from there to the Chippewa River north of Nelson, Wisconsin. Social, cultural and natural resources, including the natural resources of the Refuges, the local, county and state facilities and parks, the Corps of Engineers locks and dams and recreation facilities, Effigy Mounds National Monument, etc., are measured in tenthsofmiles between the milepost cities.
NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES
National Wildlife Refuges are a varied lot. They are called wildlife refuges, game ranges, wildlife and fish refuges, migratory waterfowl refuges, and migratory bird refuges.There are some 538 refuges along with large numbers of waterfowl production as of 2004. About 7 refuges a year have been added since 1960. The biggest source of funding for refuges, outside the huge public land transfers in Alaska, comes from Duck Stamp purchases. A motorboat fuel tax and payments for federal offshore oil and gas leases are the other main sources of funds for Wildlife Refuges. The entire Refuge system contains about 95 million acres with about 37 million visitor days annually.
The main purpose behind the creation of Wildlife Refuges has been the conservation and protection of wildlife resources. Priority general public use is for Wildlifedependent recreation. It includes hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, and environmental education/interpretation. But it has to be compatible with wildlife conservation and the individual purpose of the refuge. Other recreational uses can include snowmobiling, boating, offroad vehicle use, etc., if not incompatible with conservation and priority general public use. There may, in addition, be Refuge management economic activity or economic use of natural resources, such as mining or the pumping of oil. All of this gets sorted out by periodic evaluations and assessments with large public consultation(Fischman, 2003).
THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER REFUGES
The Upper Mississippi River Refuges, which are supported by the work of the Friends of the Upper Mississippi River Refuges, include the four district refuges of The Upper Mississippi River NWFR, plus the Lost Mound Unit, The Driftless Area NWF, and The Trempealeau NWR.
The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
The purpose of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge as specified by Congress in the 1924 law creating it was as“a refuge and breeding place for migratory birds… as a refuge and breeding place for other wild birds, game animals, furbearing animals, and for the conservation of wild flowers and aquatic plants….and as a refuge and breeding place for fish and other aquatic animal life.” (Refuge Journal, June 2004. Special Commemorative Issue, p. 1).
The other special aspect of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is its shared fortune with commercial traffic on the Mississippi River. This section of the Mississippi River has been designated a “significant ecosystem” in Federal Legislation. It is also designated a “nationally significant navigation system” to be managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There are 12 locks and dams, creating 12 “pools” along the 270 miles of the Refuge. Indeed, these pools as the basis for the District Refuges. Portions of the land within the ecosystem are owned by the Corps and managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service under an interagency agreement. Consequently, there are extensively furnished recreational areas along the river which are managed by the Corps of Engineers under their mandate. What this means is that you are as likely to see a private boat or a towboat and barges as you are an eagle or a great blue heron along the Refuge on the Mississippi.
The Winona District – Pools 4, 5, 5a &6
The area of the Refuge from the mouth of the Chippewa River at the foot of Lake Pepin to Lock and Dam 6 at Trempealeau, is the “Thousand Island” area early explorers talked about. It is quite a mixture with extensive sloughs, good fishing, islands for camping along the main channel, and lots of boat landings. There are extensive sand prairie areas below Wabasha. The Winona District is adjacent to The Trempealeau Refuge as well as a large backwater area across from Winona, Aghaming Park, which connects it to the Trempealeau Refuge. Bicycle paths are planned but not completed to link the areas.
The La Crosse District – Pools 7 & 8
The La Crosse District, dominated by the La Crosse Metropolitan area, is more of an integrated recreational complex. From Goose Island on the south, Refuge lands are located along the Mississippi through the downtown area and north to the Lake Onalaska. There is easy access fpr hunting, fishing, canoeing and bird watching on the Refuge. The Wisconsin Bike Trail runs along and through the Refuge all the way to the Trempealeau Refuge on the north. The oxbow lakes south of the city of Trempealeau, the Fishing Float at Lock and Dam 6 (in Pool 7), and the Long Lake canoe trail, are an intensely recreational area integrated with cabins and year around housing.
The McGregor District – Pools 9, 10 & 11
The best way to characterize this part of the Upper Miss.Refuges is to remember that it was once proposed as a national park. It was called “Little Switzerland”. There is more restricted access by road to the River at this point, with the biggest complex between McGregor and Prairie du Chien, taking in the blufflands where the Wisconsin River enters the Mississippi. Here the river benches and bluffs have experienced human habitation for literally thousands of years. Effigy Mounds National Monument helps anchor this section of the river. The roads ranging up atop the bluff lands, the overlooks and the coulee roads are a great attraction here, as are the ferry crossing the river and the abundance of Indian mounds. A boat trip through this section of the River provides a great deal of inspiration. The smaller, classic river towns along this stretch are well worth exploring.
The Savanna District – Pools 12, 13 & 14
The Mississippi Gorge created by the unglaciated area begins to thin out in this part of the Upper Mississippi, and several larger towns are located along its banks.Year around housing stretches down to the water, agricultural lands run back from the river and there is a more intensely developed urban settlement. The area of the Refuge around Savanna is anchored by the Spring Lake complex of lakes, the backwaters of Pool 13, bike trails, prairies and the Palisades of the State Park. Sabula, on the Iowa shore, has several marinas. There is a Visitor’s Center with displays and a bookstore.
The Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge
The 6,200 acres of the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge is separated from the Mississippi River by the raised dike of the Burlington NorthernSanta Fe Railroad. The wetlands and prairie that make up the Refuge provide resting and feeding grounds for the waterfowl and birds of the area, including the hundreds of thousands of migratory birds that use the Mississippi Flyway. There are extensive driving, biking, canoeing and hiking trails for bird watching and scenic enjoyment. There is a large observation deck and a Visitor’s Center with displays and a bookstore. The Trempealeau Refuge is bounded by the Winona District Refuge, the La Crosse District Refuge, Perrot State Park and Aghaming Park of the City of Winona.
The Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge
The lack of glaciations along this stretch of the Upper Mississippi River has left geological remnants behind in the form of cold talus slopes. These small areas are the home of many rare plants and land snails.The Driftless Area Refuge was specially created in 1989 to buy and protect these remnant areas. Consequently, the 775 acres of the Refuge are scattered across several Iowa counties. Access to the Driftless Area Refuge is through its manager at the McGregor District Refuge Office. There is a display at the McGregor Visitor’s Center on the ecology of the unglaciated area.
The Lost Mound Unit
The sand prairie terraces left behind by torrential glacial melt water coursing down the valley of the Mississippi have attracted human settlement for thousands of years. The Savanna Army Depot occupied a major portion of the sand prairie terrace running south to where it ends beyond Savanna, Illinois. The Lost Mound Unit was formed out of part of the Depot when it was closed down several years ago. Its special habitat is the prairie and sand dunes along the east side of the Mississippi. The Visitor’s Center illustrates the ecological complex of the Unit.
THE REFUGES AND THE ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS
The Refuges coexist with the Locks and Dams of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Districts of the Upper Mississippi River NWFR are designated by the pools behind these Locks and Dams. The Corps not only has a different mission; it also offers an entirely different range of services to the public. It also works with states, cities, counties and other groups, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, to provide all manner of natural resource services in the form of parks, nature walks, boat landings, etc.
The use of the following materials will broaden you knowledge of the Mississippi and contribute to the enjoyment of your Road Trip. There is also a reading list at the end of the road trip description.
Much of the Road Trip described in this book follows the Great River Road through the four states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Automobile, biking, hiking and birding trails have been built upon its basic track. Maps can be accessed on line at firstname.lastname@example.org . Or you can contact the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, P.O. Box 59159, Minneapolis, Minnesota 554598257. Their telephone number is 7632122560.
One of the best descriptions of the social, cultural and historical attractions along this route is the series of travel books by Pat Middleton: Discover! America’s Great River Road. Check the website at http://www.greatriver.com or at a local bookstore. Volume 1 starts at St.Paul, Minnesota and covers the Road Trip from where the Chippewa flows into the Mississippi above Reads Landing to Dubuque, Iowa. Volume 2 covers the area from Dubuque down to Le Claire and the I80 Bridge where the Refuges end.
The Audubon, Upper Mississippi River Campaign with its goal of building an international constituency for the protection of the upper 1,366 miles of the river, has produced a wonderful resource for river travelers: The Great River Birding trail with 15 sectional maps. Maps 59 cover the Upper Mississippi River Refuges and the route of the Road Trip between Red Wing, Minnesota and the Quad Cities in Iowa and Illinois. A Refuge checklist of birds is included in each section. Each map highlights special birding areas along that section of the river. These can be coordinated with the Road Trip maps.
The maps are available at visitor’s information centers around the region or from the Audubon– Upper Mississippi River Campaign, 1707 Main Street, Suite 105, La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601. The office can be reached by phone (608/7842992)
For those of you who want deep background, three recently published books will provide you with that knowledge. The first is Immortal River by Calvin Fremling (University of Wisconsin Press). He has combined his love of hunting, fishing and boating on the Upper Mississippi with his biological research and lectures at Winona State University into an extremely readable description of this part of the Upper Mississippi.The second is The River We Have Wrought by John Anfinson(University of Minnesota Press). It describes the history of the Army Corps of Engineers work on the Mississippi up through the building of the Lock and Dam system. He documents the social movements which supported the work on the River. The third is The Last River Rat by J.Scott Bestul, Kenny Salwey and Kay Salwey(Voyaguer Press). Something of a cult hero, the book describes how Kenny(and others like him)lived off the Mississippi River. A recent BBC production featuring Kenny Salwey is a remarkable testimony to the beauty and natural resources of the Upper Mississippi.
Enjoy your trip!
Brian C. Aldrich, Editor