Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Augsburg College to Guest Write for Paddle Forward

Hey Everyone!  This is the first guest blog entry for Paddle Forward’s Illinois River Expedition.  We are a group of Augsburg College students and a professor (and one recent Augsburg graduate) who just finished paddling 115 miles of the Upper Mississippi, from St. Paul to Winona.  We are now back on campus as part of a class on Environmental and River Politics at Augsburg College, and will be following the Illinois River trip and contributing to the trip blog.  Students in the class will be researching some of the topics and issues encountered by the Paddle4ward crew, and seeing how that trip compares to the one we just finished on the Mississippi.

In our class we have Lucie, Alex, Emily, and Charles, who are all environmental studies majors; Lily, a Chemistry major, and Rachel, in Biology.  We are also working with a history major, Kevin, who has been studying the tunnels, sewers, and storm water drain systems in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  They will each be researching different aspects of the Chicago and Illinois Rivers.

We have a personal connection to the expedition since our trip was led by Liz Just, who is also part of the Paddle Forward crew.  We had a great time hearing from Liz about the trip down the Mississippi River last fall, and looking forward to hearing about this new trip as well.

On our trip we studied water quality, the impact of the lock and dam system, and the multiple and often competing uses of the Upper Mississippi River.  Human civilizations grew up around rivers for a reason.  We use them for all sorts of things:  drinking water, waste disposal, transportation, habitat for fish and other wildlife, recreation, spirituality, and as cooling water for power plants.  The rich farmland along rivers makes them important locales for human community.  But we saw as well how all these uses put a huge strain on the health of the river ecosystems.  The locks and dams along the Mississippi dramatically alter the physical characteristics of the river, and the Army Corps of Engineers work to maintain the 9-foot channel for the barges means that the river is constantly being engineered to stay in one place, when it naturally wants to be shifting and changing.

We learned directly from the river, but also from the people we met along the way—river rats, duck hunters, fishermen, wildlife biologists, lock operators, local business owners, and people who just like being down by river.  Everyone had their own stories and perspectives on the river, but everyone loved it and wanted to protect it, which was great to see, because we do too.

Over the next few weeks we will be contributing stories and research to the Paddle Forward blog on topics such as transportation, the impact of farming, the threats posed by invasive species, and economic development along the river.

We are psyched to be following the Paddle Forward group as they explore the Chicago and Illinois River, and share our thoughts and reflections on these great rivers and their place in our lives.

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