The Fight to Keep the Mississippi River Clean and Natural

Friends of the Mississippi have helped make an urban waterway safe for recreation.
Friends of the Mississippi have helped make an urban waterway safe for recreation. Mackenzie Havey
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As their name suggests, Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) serves as an advocate for what is the North American continent’s largest drainage system, in particular the section of the Mississippi that meanders through the Twin Cities. Working hard to promote and preserve the natural habitats that make up this major waterway and surrounding areas, they do everything from influencing important environmental policies, to supporting the construction of new riverfront parks and trails, to educating both youth and adults about pollution and protection.

Each year, Friends of the Mississippi River publishes an annual report to highlight the previous year’s accomplishments relating to the river itself, the river corridor, the land along the metro-area Mississippi River watershed, and stewardship within the local community. Reviewing the organization’s major triumphs brings to light the importance of these efforts, proving that this great river needs advocates to remain a vibrant part of Minnesota’s natural ecosystem. Here are their how they helped with four major elements to enjoying the Mississippi River.

1. Water Quality

Thanks to help from Friends of the Mississippi River, Minnesota became the first state to ban products that contain triclosan.
Thanks to help from Friends of the Mississippi River, Minnesota became the first state to ban products that contain triclosan. Mackenzie Havey

One of their most notable accomplishments of 2014, FMR helped to deliver a big water victory at the legislature in 2014. Thanks to their campaign, Minnesota became the first state in the union to ban products that contain triclosan, taking effect at the beginning of 2017. Commonly found in products such as body wash, hand soap, and cleaning products, triclosan is an antimicrobial additive that has been linked to liver fibrosis and cancer in mice. Other health risks associated with triclosan include things like impaired reproduction and allergies.

FMR also worked to secure $1 million in state funding for the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative. This work is focused on utilizing cover crops on otherwise barren farm fields to reduce erosion, soak up excess fertilizers, and protect surrounding waterways.

2. Protecting the River Corridor

A 72-mile stretch of the river, including the section running through the Twin Cities, is preserved as the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.
A 72-mile stretch of the river, including the section running through the Twin Cities, is preserved as the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Mackenzie Havey

This Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area is a 72-mile stretch of land that runs along the Mississippi River through the metro area. In 1976 a program to protect and responsibly develop the area was set up after years of pollution and land-use issues. Today many know it as the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area . FMR works with a wide range of local entities to spearhead many related projects along the river in hopes of promoting its environmental, community, and cultural importance. In 2014, they continued this work, protecting existing green spaces and helping to educate the public on new land-use proposals along this local span, including advocating and assisting in planning a new riverfront park in north and northeast Minneapolis.

They also played an important role in supporting the closure of the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock in Minneapolis in order to limit the entrance of non-native invasive carp species. These fish are often cited in damaging the native ecosystems and are an all-around nuisance for those recreating on the river.

3. Preserving New Natural Areas

Over the years, FMR has assisted in protecting more than 2,200 acres of land within the metro-area Mississippi River watershed. They have also devised management plans for 8,200 acres at 77 sites and helped restore more than 1,330 acres.

A unique opportunity, in 2014 the organization helped provide support to protect a former 347-acre family farm in Elk River—one of the biggest undeveloped riverfront properties in the metro. Dubbed the Houlton Conservation Area, the City of Elk River plans to continue working to protect the 2.5-miles of shoreline, along with the surrounding wildlife, with plans of opening the nature area to the public in 2016.

What’s more, FMR also contributed to the conservation and restoration of 598 acres of prairie, grassland, oak savanna, and forest in a number of metro-area cities and towns, including Hastings, Spring Lake Park, and Cottage Grove. Along with that, they also conducted two cottonwood regeneration projects, planting 150 cottonwoods and helping to restore the Mississippi floodplain forest.

4. Stewardship of the River

Part of the FMR mission is to educate the local community regarding the river and its important habitats. Last year the Outreach and Stewardship team gave 50 presentations, teaching more than 2,000 people about environmentally safe ways to take care of their homes and yards. They also recruited 2,360 people to volunteer, doing everything from monitoring water quality, to picking up litter, to habitat restoration. They also worked to engage 96 different partner organizations, including local schools, government entities, nonprofits, and local businesses.

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