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Letters from the River # 1

The following is an article by our own Blair Stewig, who is also working as a writer and “River Correspondent” for Augsburg weekly newspaper, The Echo.  She will be sending in a series of articles as we go, and we will post them to the blog as well.

The students on the Augsburg river semester have now traveled approximately 250 miles from Minneapolis to Guttenberg Iowa. Thus far we have experienced extreme changes in the appearance of the river and learned about the many uses of the river. We have witnessed barges with 15 tows meandering slowly down the river carrying coal and grain. We have slept under the stars. We have sung numerous songs around the campfire accompanied by an acoustic guitar played by Noah Cameron. It can be said that a lot has happened in the last 3 weeks.

Our typical day begins with a six o’clock wake-up, followed by breaking down camp and then a filling breakfast of oatmeal and granola with all of the possible fixings. Of course, a breakfast would not be complete without a few cups of “Cowboy Joe” to get our day going. We are usually on the water by 8:30 AM on transit days (days we travel 16-20 miles). Transit days we typically do not have class but we do occasionally have site visits along the way. As we paddle we take in our surroundings, noting the wing-dams, the location of the 9-foot channel, any dredging that is occurring and the appearance of the bluffs and the barges that we pass by as we travel. We get into camp between 4:00 PM and 5:30 PM on transit days. We have camp set up and dinner ready by about 6:30 PM. We spend our evenings laughing and singing songs around the campfire while we reflect upon our travels and make s’mores (with Reese’s in place of chocolate). Sleep tends to come fairly early with most of us drifting off by 9:30 PM or 10:00 PM. On days that we have classes we will either paddle shorter distances of 6-8 miles or not paddle at all. Classes can happen any day of the week and tend to be on rest days. Class could happen anywhere. The first stream ecology class took place in the Laundromat in Lake City while we were washing our clothes for the first time.

As for coursework; independent studies and group courses are underway with a completed POL 241 test and other course tests soon to follow. Tests were taken in our tents or on the beach in Crazy Creek chairs overlooking the Mississippi River and the Lansing bridge for inspiration. For the courses themselves, we have many guest lecturers and many site visits which constitutes class time.

Some highlights from the past few weeks include visiting the U.S. Geological survey center in Lacrosse Wisconsin. Here we were able to take a peek into their research laboratory where they were conducting research on the silver and bighead carp. We also had the opportunity to see some young lake sturgeon and paddlefish; some of the oldest species in the upper Mississippi River basin (UMRB). Fun fact: of the 150 freshwater fish in the UMRB none have gone extinct in the last 100 years. This is pretty extraordinary considering how polluted the Mississippi River was before the clean water act (CWA). A few other highlights would be visiting the Genoa fish hatchery, hiking the sugarloaf in Winona Minnesota and visiting Prairie Island in Minnesota. Another high point was learning more about island restoration projects from the Iowa DNR, (while touring the island by river and by foot) as well as getting serenaded by the “hawk guy” of Iowa. We were even invited to have a fish fry of Catfish, Buffalo Fish, and Carp on “Gilligan’s Island” (the local’s name for Island 167). The fish was a lot better than we were expecting. The fellow who made us the fish was a clammer on the Mississippi for quite some time. He was forced to start a tavern (now called “Misfits”) in order to make a living when the zebra mussels (an aggressive invasive specie) forced him to stop clamming for a living. He shared stories of the mussel pearl button days in Muscatine Iowa and about the mussel button making process.

Current shower tally: 7
River Baths: ∞