Celebrating Christmas on the Mississippi River
One of the great Mississippi River folk traditions will be on display again this year on thirty miles of levees - both sides of the river - midway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Christmas Eve bonfires, probably established between 1880 and 1900 in the St. James Parish, will again be lit in the form of teepees to "light the way for Papa Noel".
Today these bonfires are regulated for safety reasons and used to raise funds for local charities. Never the less, they attract hordes of tourists and media in search of locally based - and visually dramatic - holiday customs.
Other Mississippi River communities will be celebrating the holidays on their river banks this month. Go to America's Waterway Facebook page to share your local festivities.
Mississippi River's Gift This Holiday
This year's national Christmas tree had roots near the Mississippi River's headwaters. After its October harvesting, the addition of local children's hand-made ornaments and an Ojibwe blessing, the 88-foot spruce followed the Great River Road, gathered the good wishes of Mississippi River residents and was on its way to Washington where it was lit Dec. 4th for the nation. Read its saga here.
For that Mississippi River Fan on Your Gift List …..
In the 1960s, Rachel Carson alerted the public to the pervasiveness of pollution and kicked off the modern environmental movement. This year, in a more humanistic way, Gayle Harper recasts the Mississippi River narrative with words and photography, chronicling the people, places and pressures of America's great waterway. Calling her book Roadtrip with a Raindrop, she recounts the 90 days it takes a raindrop in Lake Itasca to travel to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, readers meet the people and the river's effect on them. Add her book to your gift list by ordering from Gayle's web site directly.
AWI 2014 - A Work in Progress
In September, more than 130 leaders from 90 organizations, met at America's Watershed Initiative in Louisville, KY. There the AWI Team shared preliminary results on the Mississippi River Watershed Health Report Card and its basins and gathered feedback from participants. Recommendations to better integrate the basins within the Mississippi River watershed, engage the private sector and states' governors, improve and flesh out the Mississippi River Watershed Health Report Card and strengthen communication efforts were some of the outcomes. More information can be found here.
Bird v. Stadium
The builders of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium forgot to take winged creatures into account when they designed a see-through, glass-plated façade sitting smack in the middle of the North American Mississippi River flyway. Nearly half of North America's bird species and up to 40 percent of its waterfowl spend part of their lives on the Mississippi River flyway, the National Audubon Society calculates. One of the reasons for this is its visibility. There aren't huge canyons or mountain ranges along the way to obstruct their course from the air (except for the occasional urban landscape). Another reason is the vast crop and forestland through which the Mississippi River passes, offering plenty of "off-road" resting and eating spots. For more information on the Mississippi River Flyway, click here.
For Human Travel on the Mississippi River, Consider the Great River Road
The Great River Road itself has a colorful history. 75 years since its presidential inception, it's had moments of measured progress against a backdrop of inertia. The brainchild of Harold Ickes, secretary of the interior under FDR, it started as a planning board. From 1939 to 1949, it was the subject of congressional study, resulting in a recommendation for a Parkway for the Mississippi River in 1951. The 1956 Federal Highway Act came along just in time to fund it, but it wouldn't be until the 1973 Federal Aid Highway Act that congress would allocate over $314 million for the Great River Road, $250 million of which was directly allocated to the 10 main stem states. (Take heart, those working on change for the Mississippi River today!)
Today the Great River Road is seeing more travelers and more points of interest than any time in its history. For your state's Great River Road materials, click here.