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A National Dialogue for the Future of America's Waterway

River Currents Newsletter - June 2010

Mississippi River Festivals Celebrate the People-Water Connection

From the Headwaters to the Delta, Mississippi River people love to celebrate their connections to the River. Communities may have different ways of showing their connection to the River, but this summer's crop of festivals shares one thing - the tie between local people, the River and their lives.

Near the Headwaters in Itasca County, Minnesota, they don't just celebrate once. From Tall Timber Days to the White Oak Rendezvous to the Mississippi Melodie Showboat, entertainment, history, tradition and, of course, local crafts highlight both a past way of life and the present.

Moving south, St. Paul, Minnesota boasts the Great River Gathering which took place in May. Sponsored by the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, over 100 organizations exhibit and more than 1,000 people gather in what is a decidedly robust celebration of the Riverfront's contribution to that city's economy and civic vibrancy. The event attracts business and government leaders along with exhibitors that range from the Big River Magazine to the National Park Service. Last year's speaker touched the largely urban audience by tying his experience as a Hmong immigrant to the two rivers in his life: the Mekong and the Mississippi, which he called "River of Dreams" for the hope it means to new people in the community.

An entirely different festival of the River takes place in June in Dubuque, Iowa. This year, on the second weekend in June, the banks of the Mississippi River will explode with live bands, including Three Dog Night in America's River Tent. Monster truck rides, dog competitions, races and non-stop entertainment will highlight the Port of Dubuque's celebration of its River heritage.

The next weekend and farther down the River, Grafton, Illinois holds the Great Rivers Towboat Festival complete with music, rope throwing contests, children's activities, and historic displays by the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers. Of course there will be a crawfish and shrimp boil, complete with proper eating demonstrations. This community celebration focuses on the transportation and commercial heritage the River holds for this section of the River, the confluence.

Moving south on the Mississippi River, you discover that community celebrations start earlier in the year. For instance, Memphis already held its Beale Street Music Festival in late April and early May. For three days, blues, rock, gospel and R&B bands hit four stages on 33 acres overlooking the Mississippi River. This event not only celebrates River heritage, it celebrates today's version of deep river sound.

And of course New Orleans would celebrate both jazz and one of its legendary folk and music heroes by turning out for the Satchmo Summer Festival in August. It's uniquely a New Orleans event and this year, Aug. 5 through 8, it celebrates 10 years of art and jazz in its tribute to Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong.

These are just a few of the ways and places that celebrate their connection to the Mississippi River. There are probably hundreds more each year. What they all have in common is the River. What they all share is an urge to come to the River and be beside it while they see friends and celebrate its part in their lives. For some it is a source of beauty and tranquility. For others it is the community's economic life blood. One thing is sure. The Mississippi River has drawn them for years and is likely to continue for years to come.

Another Ecological Disaster for the Gulf of Mexico

The poor Gulf of Mexico and the people who live and work on it.

Many who have worked for years to address hypoxia in the Gulf - like Gulf Restoration Network - feel this injustice more than most. I've seen many a Mississippi River colleague or expert in television reports over the last month. We join them in their outrage and heartfelt concern for the waters that were already under assault. No doubt the clean-up will go on for years. One can only hope this national attention will bring corrective action not only for this disaster, but for the other challenges that more slowly attacked the waters as well.

America's Inner Coast Summit

St. Louis will be the scene of the June Army Corps of Engineers conference aimed at gaining consensus for whole-River approaches to the Mississippi River. Bringing together the leadership of non-governmental organizations, federal agencies, private landowners, industry, academia, and community organizations concerned with the future ecological and economic sustainability of the Mississippi River Valley, its goal will be high-level recommendations for sustainable projects and initiatives, including influencing federal, state, and local guidelines and policies. While an invitation-only event, it is a visible sign of the growing recognition that whole-River approaches are needed to address America's Waterway, the Mississippi.
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