Big River - November 1997

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November 1997

The monthly newsletter for people who live, work or play on the Upper Mississippi River

Vol. 5, No. 11 $2.75

The Sultana Tragedy- Roll Out Worse than the Titanic the Barrels By Gary Kramer

By Lee Hendrix

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n August, my family and I visited an exhibit at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee, about the steamer Titanic's tragic inaugural voyage in 1912. Although I found the presentation compelling and poignant, I felt that the city of Memphis missed an opportunity. The most deadly marine disaster in the history of the United

More than 2,500 people were crowded on a vessel licensed to carry only 376 passengers and 85 crew members. States occurred on the Mississippi River just a few miles from the Pyramid. I wondered how many of the thousands of visitors that sultry Saturday knew that across the industrialized Wolf River and the gentrified real estate of Mud Island, up the Mississippi about six miles, near what used to be Paddy's Old Hen and Chickens Islands, the steamer Sultana exploded on April 27, 1865. As I toured the exhibit that after-

noon, I made mental comparisons between the story of the North Atlantic steamer and what I remembered about its less-renowned predecessor. Although the experience of the victims and survivors of both tragedies bear many contrasts, I found it meaningful that greed, human folly and a profound lack of respect for the destructive capabilities of nature played significant roles in both disasters. While many of the more wellheeled passengers aboard the Titanic dined on caviar, danced in the ballroom and strolled along its spacious decks, life aboard the Sultana was anything but comfortable. Although the Sultana was considered modem (built in 1863), it was grossly overloaded with former Union prisoners of war returning home from Confederate prison camps. Before taking on the ex-prisoners in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Sultana had left New Orleans with a near-capacity passenger load, including a good number of children. More than 2,500 people were crowded on a vessel licensed to carry (Sultana continued on page 2)

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en there's work to be one all too often everyone waits for someone else to take that first step. Frequently nothing gets done. Chad Pregracke, 22, doesn't hesitate to step forward. Two years ago, he realized somebody needed to do something about the trash and litter on the shoreline of the middle section of the Upper Mississippi. Buoyed with the enthusiasm that comes with being a 20-year-old college student, he began to plan his (Cleanup continued on page 3)

What's Inside. • • Current Events

Paddlefish Trial, Zebra Magnets . . 5 River Calendar & Almanac

Swan Watches, Workboats ..... 8


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to be made in Vicksburg while the only 376 passengers and 85 crew members. quartermasters were delivering the There were few beds or toilet facilimalnourished human cargo to their impending doom. To repair the boiler ties aboard the Sultana for all these passengers. There was barely room correctly would have meant at least for most of the men to wrap themselves in a blanket, exposed to the elements on the outer decks, but few complained. After the living hell of Cahaba and Andersonville, where many had survived worse conditions for more than a year, this week-long trip up the Mississippi could easily be endured. After all, they were heading home - to Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and West Virginia. Few knew of the bribery and secret deals between the boat's captain and the Army quartermaster,s department in In a matter of minutes the Sultana was engulfed in flames.

boat. The wood used to build the Sultana's upper decks was light and flimsy, which would cause them to collapse should fire or explosion undermine any of the supports. The upper

Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they had boarded. As a result, other northbound steamers left that port virtually empty, while the Sultana was overloaded. While the decision to navigate an iceberg field after dark led directly to the collision and subsequent sinking of the Titanic, a criminally negligent failure to repair a boiler set the stage for the explosion of the Sultana. Both Captain J. Cass Mason and Chief En-

decks were also coated with paint composed of turpentine, benzene and other highly combustible ingredients. The stage was set for disaster. At 2 a.m. on April 27, not one, but three of the Sultana's boilers exploded. The initial explosion ripped through the decks and sleeping passengers, leaving the entire center of the boat a fiery, scalding cauldron. Into this crater fell many of the unfortunate soldiers, screaming for help or a merciful death. Many others were blown like cannon balls hundreds of feet into the drizzly night air. In a matter of minutes the boat was engulfed in flames. Faced with the agony of being burned alive, most chose to risk a watery escape or, at least, a less horrible death in the river. The Mississippi, however, was at flood stage - almost four miles wide from bank to bank. Most of the weakened souls did not have the strength to swim 400 feet. One lucky survivor said, "Men were rushing to and fro, trampling each other in their attempt to escape. All was confusion ... I stood for a few

The Sultana at dock.

gineer Nathan Wintringer knew the Sultana's boilers were in bad shape. One leaked so badly that repairs had 2

one day's delay. Fearing that some of the soldiers (whose fare was paid by the U.S. Army) would be transferred to another vessel, the decision was made to repair the boiler quickly and shoddily. The Sultana departed Vicksburg on April 24 with a boiler that was, in effect, a powder keg waiting to ignite. This cavalier attitude toward safety was demonstrated in other ways on both vessels. The Titanic was originally designed to carry 64 lifeboats. However, when the ship's owner looked at the design, he decided that so many lifeboats would interfere with the passengers' views of the ocean. The Titanic left port with only 16 lifeboats. Similarly, when the Sultana left Vicksburg with 2,500 people aboard, there were only 70 life jackets on the Big River

November 1997

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moments and listened to that awful wail of hundreds of human beings being burned alive in the cabins and under the fallen timbers." Of the 2,500 people on board, most estimates say that between 1,700 and 1,800 were killed. A few of the lucky or resourceful survivors managed to cling to pieces of driftwood until they were rescued by other boats in the area, others had the strength to swim

"Men were rushing to and fro, trampling each other in their attempt to escape. All was confusion ... I stood for a few moments and listened to that awful wail of hundreds of human beings being burned alive in the cabins and under the fallen timbers." to shore and hang onto trees until help arrived. For days the banks of the Mississippi were strewn with bloated corpses for up to 100 miles below the explosion site. The number of the dead in the Sultan.a tragedy was greater than the number of Union fatalities in all but four Civil War battles. The disaster killed 300 more people than perished with the Titanic 47 years later. Why, one may reasonably ask, is the story of the Titanic so well known while the Sultana is a mere footnote in most history books? One answer could be the times in which people were living. In 1865 the nation was somewhat accustomed to tragedy and loss of life. Most families had suffered personal losses during the war, so dealing with death was certainly not an uncommon experience. Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated a mere two weeks before the explosion, and John Wilkes Booth had been shot only the day before. Also, the Mississippi River, at that time, was considered a distant western frontier and did not receive the interest of most of November 1997

the nation's population, which resided east of the Appalachians. While many of the Titanic's passengers were wealthy American and European voyagers, most of the dead from the Sultan.a were poor enlisted men from western states, therefore not connected to the powers of the print media. While the Titanic is memorialized by underwater explorations, films, books, and travelling exhibits in palatial halls, not even the smallest monument has been erected to the 1,800 who perished on the Sultana. Unbelievably, but, perhaps, fittingly, no one was held personally responsible for the senseless overloading of the Sultana. Tragic as the wrecks of the Sultana, the Titanic, and other vessels were, these incidents helped bring about a heightened awareness of marine safety. Today, vessels (especially those carrying passengers) must go through comprehensive periodic inspections by the United States Coast Guard. Passenger and crew limits are rigidly enforced, with the hope that a disaster of this magnitude will never occur again. Lee Hendrix works as a pilot for the Delta Queen Steamboat Company and when shoreside w~rks as a storyteller in the St. Louis area. His last story for Big River was "Deadly Decks- Working on Riverboats" (October 1997).

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MN 55987; (507) 454-5949;/ax: (507) 454-2133; email: editors@big-river.com; web site: <http://www.big-river.com> Reggie McLeod editor/publisher Molly McGuire assistant editor David Syring associate editor Pamela Eyden contributing editor Dawn Bulson researcher Man; Feat/zergill office manager Joshua Jacobs systems analyst Subscriptions are $28 for one year, $50 for two years or $2.75 per single issue. Send subscriptions, single copy orders and change-of-address requests to Big River, PO Box 741, Winona, MN 55987.

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Big River

cleanup project and seek support for his efforts. He thought that finding support for such a worthwhile effort would not be too hard if he contacted all the government agencies, special interest groups and corporations that pay verbal homage to a cleaner environment and claim to treasure the wonder of the mighty Mississippi. He soon found that most of his contacts simply thought he was nuts. "I couldn't believe it," he said. "I called all kinds of government agencies, businesses, and private groups connected with the river. I told them I wanted to clean the river's shoreline and asked if they would consider supporting my efforts either financially or in some other way." Not only were all his requests flatly rejected, he was repeatedly told it just couldn't be done. The shock of the rejections triggered a tenacious desire to prove that it could be done. He vowed to do it by himself if necessary. He transformed his idea into a written plan and intensified his phone and letterwriting campaigns to everyone and anyone he felt had some interest in the river. Explaining his idea, he sought both support and action. By last June, he had secured the blessings of the Illinois and Iowa Departments of Natural Resources; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the Environmental Protection Agency. That's when Chad began the actual work on what he calls his "Mississippi River Restoration and Beautification Project." Working mainly alone, his goal is to clean over 1,200 miles of shoreline from Guttenberg, Iowa, to St. Louis, Missouri. His approach is low tech and labor intensive: he picks out a littered site and then tows his johnboat and a large utility trailer to a nearby launch ramp. He loads trash onto the boat and then transfers it to the trailer. He repeats the process until the trailer is full and then heads to a salvage yard, hoping to recycle as much material as possible. Last August, the (Cleanup continued on page 4) 3


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Corps of Engineers provided a dumpster that saved him numerous runs to the junkyard. He estimates he's disposed of over 15 tons of trash. His most frequent finds have been barrels, tires and styrofoam chunks broken free from boat docks. While he hasn't found any treasures, he has found one of almost everything else. The work can be hot, dirty, wet, exhausting, demanding and lonely, but it's just where Chad wants to be. He has a strong connection to water in general and the river in particular. He grew up around water, both at his parents' home on the Mississippi at Hampton, Illinois, and at the cabin they built on a lake near Hayward, Wisconsin. At home or on vacation, being around the water was an essential part of his life. When he was 16, he and his older brother began spending their summer vacations as commercial mussel divers. During those

Chad Pregracke coaxes a barrel.

five years, Chad experienced a part of the Mississippi that most people know nothing about: the river bottom. They lived on a 32 foot houseboat moored near their diving site, so he worked on the bottom and lived on the top of the river. As he realized trash was everywhere, he began to feel something needed to be done. His houseboat, the Shanty, became his base of operations again last summer. Even after its engine failed, he continued to use it. He'd maneuver it with his johnboat into a backwater near his work site where he'd tie it off to shore and go to work from there. Part of the motivation for under4

taking such a project is his belief that taries on both the Fox Network News and CNN. In September the Illinois people don't understand what a great resource the river is nor do they unFish and Wildlife Federation honored him as its Citizen Conservationist of derstand how much trash, litter and debris have been allowed to accumuthe year and awarded him $500. He was also honored by the Moline, Illilate along its shores. He mentions a nois, Conservation Club, which gave site just a half mile downstream from Sunset Marina in Rock Island, Illinois, him $1,000. They are currently invesone of the biggest marinas on the mid-Mississippi. The large population of the Quad Cities has carried a significant volume of litter to the river, so Chad spent most of his summer working in that area. Chad dug out over 30 barrels that had been there for many years. He learned to be careful about removing barrels. "If it looked like it might contain hazardous waste, I'd mark the Chad loads up his johnboat. location and notify the EPA. tigating ways to accept tax-exempt Otherwise, I'd be responsible for the donations on his behalf. disposal of that waste." On other parts of the Mississippi The Aluminum and other rivers, groups have orgaCompany of America nized volunteer cleanups. The Ohio (Alcoa) in Bettendorf, River Sweep attracts nearly 20,000 Iowa, contributed volunteers each year to clean 2,000 • $8,400 to help defray his expenses. In exmiles of river bank. Adopt A Beach change, Alcoa filmed programs, similar to the highway verhis efforts and now ussions are also cropping up. es clips of him in its But on Chad's stretch of river, he's television commercials the someone who has stepped forward to make things happen. He promoting its environstarted last summer and hopes to mental awareness and commitment. make a bigger impact next year. He's While the donation continuing to approach as many was helpful, it was not groups as possible to show them the enough. Chad is so determined to accomprehensive plan he has developed that outlines the business, opercomplish his goal he ended up dipping into his own savings to keep the ational, safety and publicity aspects of project going. As of mid September his proposal. he was still at it, but on a modified He just won't give up. If you'd like to contact him, his schedule. He will finish his associate's home address is 17615 IL 84 N., East degree in January at Heartland Junior College in Bloomington, Illinois, but Moline, IL 61244. arranged his fall schedule so he could Gary Kramer is a boater and a part-time freeattend classes three days a week and lance writer who lives in Rock Island, Ill. He's work the river the other four. written a weekly recreational boating column Following a story that appeared in for the Quad-City Tunes and has been a regJuly in the Quad City Times, he has reular contributor to Heartland Boating. He's ceived wide publicity. Numerous also had articles published in Lakeland Boatnewspapers and television stations ing and Scuttlebutt. ¡ have covered his project. He's also been the subject of short documen-

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November 1997


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Current Events :;• =

Harriet of Yesterday St. Paul, Minn. - The focal point of Harriet Island Park, across the river from downtown St. Paul, should shift from the pavilion to the Mississippi, concluded city planners, artists, architects, engineers, ecologists and others at a recent, two-day workshop. Sponsored by the city's Parks and Recreation Department and the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, the workshop wrestled with questions ranging from how to prevent the levee from being a barrier to the river, to how to tie the park more closely to the nearby West Side neighborhood. Planners want to design a place that will recall the glory days at the turn of the century, when a million people a year visited the island. Other suggestions for $1.3 million in Metro Open Space Funds and a $2.7 million state challenge grant include: replace pavement at the river's edge with green space; build plazas and decks into the levee itself; keep all boat-related activities concentrated at the current public dock; and emphasize the park's origin as an island by retracing the water's path with public art or a road painted blue, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune (9-27-97).

Dubuque Development Dubuque, Iowa - The Chamber of Commerce and the Dubuque County Historical Society would like to see the Dubuque riverfront change over the next few years. Their wish list includes a river walk, a Mississippi River Discovery Center, a plaza, pavilion and amphitheater. The hitch? An estimated $24 million price tag. Chamber president, Steve Horman, says the projects already have some public funding, but the chamber and historical society need to raise $1.3 million.

November 1997

The ambitious plans for the Discovery Center include a river aquarium, an outdoor maritime museum, a demonstration wetland, a living history center, a children's museum and a repository and research center, according to the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald (10-2-97).

Itasca Face Lift Minnesota - The Mississippi's birthplace at Lake Itasca State Park will get a major overhaul if Gov. Ame Carlson's proposed $6.4 million funding package gets legislative approval. The proposal includes $4 million for a visitor's center and money to refurbish other structures in the park It also includes $200,000 to fight bark beetle infestations in pine trees and for planting pines. The park lost 3,000 acres of timber to a severe windstorm in 1995. Money for the project would be . drawn from an expected $2.3 billion budget surplus for the 1997-1999 biennium, according to the St. Paul Pioneer P.ress (10-10-97).

Paddlefish Penalty Baraboo, Wis. - Three men charged with killing at least 60 paddlefish and violating several natural resource laws got off the hook with less than a thousand dollars in fines. The men mishandled and killed the paddlefish while seining for rough fish below the Prairie du Sac Dam (See Big River, March 1997). In an out-of-court settlement, Jeffrey Morrison, and Harold and Mark Lynch, all of La Crosse, pleaded no contest on charges of unreasonable waste of a natural resource, and on failure to return paddlefish to the water. A third charge of violating protected species laws was dismissed. The three men were given 60 days to pay $977 in fines.

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Zebra Magnets • Researchers at the University of Delaware took a close look at the structures, called ''byssal threads," that mussels use to cling to rocks, boats, pipes and other things. Herbert Waite and his colleagues report in Science magazine that the threads are made of a central structural protein surrounded by areas resembling spider's silk and elastin, the chief component of tendons and ligaments. The threads are five times stronger and 16 times stretchier than human tendons, and go from stiff at one end to elastic at the other, enabling mussels to withstand beating by waves. Waite speculates that his findings might lead to better artificial skin and similar materials, according to the Charlotte Observer (9-23-97). • Fort Wayne, Ind. - The latest promising weapon in the war on zebra mussels turns out to be clean and cheap. A Fort Wayne company, Superior Manufacturing Co., says laboratory tests show that special magnets, normally used to prevent lime from building up in pipes, boilers and water towers, destroy the zebra mussel's ability to attach to objects. Zebras in treated water show tissue deterioration and loss of byssal threads. The magnets require little maintenance and consume no energy. A year-long field test in Manistee, Michigan, will conclude soon. • A drawdown of water levels on the St. Croix near Taylor Falls, Minnesota, revealed no zebra mussels in the ten-mile stretch above the Northern States Power dam. The search for zebras was prompted by a find of 50 small zebras this summer on a sampling plate in the upper St. Croix. When no zebras were found, a second scheduled search was cancelled, and water levels behind the dam were allowed to rise again, reports the St. Paul Pioneer Press (10-9-97).

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Cormorants vs. Catfish Rising demands for farm-raised catfish may cost the double-crested cormorant its federally protected status, at least on fish farms. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposes to allow catfish farmers to kill unlimited numbers of the birds to protect their business interests. Current laws require permits from the USFWS to shoot a limited number of cormorants each year. Fish-farmers say cormorants, which winter in the South where the catfish industry is largest, cost them millions of dollars a year in lost fish. The FWS is expected to make a decision on the proposal this year, according to the Charlotte Observer (10-7-97).

Refuge Globally Important While the importance to migratory birds of the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge has long been known, the American Bird Conservancy recently acknowledged 260 miles of the Refuge between Wabasha, Minnesota, and Rock Island, Illinois, as "globally significant" for populations of bald eagles, canvasback ducks and tundra swans. To qualify for such a designation, an area must provide habitat for at least 1 percent of the world population of a given species, or have concentrations of at least 20,000 birds. The Upper Mississippi has over 70 breeding pairs of bald eagle$, representing more than 1 percent of the U.S. breeding population. The Upper Mississippi also provides habitat for about 17,000 tundra swans and more than 136,000 canvasbacks (20 percent of the world populations of both species) during fall migration, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The fall tundra swan viewing season on the upper Mississippi has begun, with the Alma (Wis.) Tundra Swan Watch Organization reporting that 32 swans arrived at the Rieck's Lake Park area on October 14. A wildlife viewing platform at the park will be staffed by a volunteer inter6

preter from 9 a.m. to dark in fair weather. The deck will also have mounted binoculars and spotting scopes for viewing. Call (608) 6854249 for information.

Conservancy Group La Crosse, Wis. - A new land protection group, the Mississippi Valley Conservancy, says it will help land owners in western Wisconsin protect the region from unchecked development. The Conservancy plans to use voluntary agreements with land owners, conservation easements and other land trust tools to maintain the scenic and natural environment of the area. Conservancy board members note that local coulees and bluff tops face intense pressure for new housing developments (see Big River, March 1997). For information, call (608) 7843606.

Jet Ski Fatality Holmen, Wis. -A Holmen man has pleaded guilty to homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle after his 17-year-old stepson was killed in a night time, jet ski accident on Aug. 9. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 4. When-Brian Buckholtz swerved to avoid pilings near an oil company's pier at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Black River, his stepson, Jason Kutil, died after falling off the back into the water and fracturing his skull. The two men were illegally operating the watercraft at night using a flashlight for visibility. Alcohol was not a factor in the accident, though a combination of other drugs found in Buckholtz' blood test may have impaired his judgment, according to the La Crosse Tribune (10-3&25-97).

Towboat News • Marquette Transportation, a towboat company that started in Cassville, Wisconsin, has renamed its Volunteer State to honor the Superbowl champion Green Bay Packers. The towboat was rechristened the Titletown, USA. They will probably not re-

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paint the boat in Packer green and gold, since the company's colors are red and white, says the Dubuque Telegraph Herald (9-22-97). • The towboat White Angel, owned by American River Transportation Co., sank in a cove on the Upper Mississippi between Clinton and Camanche, Iowa, while trying to face up to some barges. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported that about half of the boat's 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked, but was contained before reaching the Main Channel. No fish kills were reported from the spill, according to the Dubuque Telegraph Herald (9-24-97). • A ship handling tug to be built by Bisso Towboat Company for use in New Orleans will use Z-drives instead of the usual fixed-screw propellers. Z-drives give tugs and towboats greater mobility. The drives swivel in a full circle allowing the use of full power in any direction. Zdrives are used throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and the U.S. west coast, but this will be the first such tug on the Mississippi. Compass Marine Service's towboat, Miss Nari, has operated on the river with a Z-drive since 1982, according to the Waterways Journal (9-29-97).

Drawdown Success Clarksville, Mo. - A temporary drawdown of Pool 24 near Clarksville, Missouri, this summer rejuvenated plants and improved habitat without affecting navigation. Robert Goodwin, Midwest representative for the U.S. Maritime Administration, presented the drawdown's results at a meeting of the American Waterways Operators. Goodwin said drawdowns are effective only where river managers have a wide range of water levels to manipulate without affecting the nine-foot navigation channel. Because of the topography of the upstream half of the Upper Mississippi, only pools 8, 9 and 13 are viable possibilities for drawdowns, according to the Waterways Journal (9-29-97).

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River of Tax Dollars

Fight for a Fen

Washington, D.C. - An independent tax-payer watchdog group released a report in October that recommends cutting 16 projects on or near the Mississippi River to "save federal taxpayers $1.5 billion immediately and much more in coming decades." "Upper Mississippi Lock Expansion" was number one on the list. The report predicts that the Corps' Navigation Study, which is not yet complete, will recommend doubling the capacity of locks 22, 24 and 25, costing taxpayers about $500 million and damaging the environment. The report, "River of Subsidy," was published by Taxpayers for Common Sense and was funded, in part, by the McKnight Foundation. Several environmental groups, including the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, helped research the report. Taxpayers for Common Sense is a Washington, D.C., based, taxpayer watchdog group. The report also listed Lock and Dam 1 and St. Anthony Falls Locks and Dams; Marsh Lake Dike Construction, near Red Wing, Minn.; Mississippi River Gulf Outlet; and Missouri River Navigation. The report is available for $10.00, from Taxpayers for Common Sense, 651 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C. 20003, (202) 546-8500.

Scott County, Minnesota - A proposed road project could wreak havoc on a 425-acre wetland area, which includes a 64-acre calcareous fen. In such fens cold, oxygen-poor groundwater bubbles up, creating habitat for rare and endangered species that require calcium and magnesium-rich environments to survive. The fen is classified as an "outstanding resource value water" and under Minnesota law, construction must wait until the Department of Natural Resources prepares a management plan. The Minnesota Environmental Partnership, an informal group of organizations that represents 362,000 Minnesotans, says the highway would change the area's water cycle, and that runoff and road salt would destroy the fen's rare plants. The Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Metropolitan Council all oppose the project, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press (9-27-97).

Bogged Wetlands Madison, Wis. - Cranberry growers have convinced the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board to make it easier for them to build dikes and dredge wetlands to create new cranberry bogs. Several environmental groups, including Trout Unlimited and the Sierra Club, opposed the change (see Big River, October 1997). Under the new rules, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must show that expanding a cranberry bog into a wetland has a "significantly adverse impact" before forcing growers to look for alternatives. Then growers, not the DNR, would analyze the alternatives. November 1997

Mistaken Identity Sartell, Minn. - Good automobile 1'1.ygiene landed a Minnesota angler a $150 ticket and a lesson in fish identification. The man thought he had caught a 25-inch northern pike, until conservation officer, Jason Jensen, stopped him to inform him that the fish hanging out of his car window was a muskie. Since the state's minimum size for muskies is 40 inches, the two men put the fish into a bucket and rushed it back to the river. They worked the fish back and forth in the water for ten minutes, and it eventually swam off. The angler told Jensen he was dangling the fish out the window because he didn't want to get fish slime on his car seat, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press (10-5-97).

Migratory Bird News If you want to be the first in your flock of friends to know when the

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martins return to Louisiana in February, you may want to join a new newsgroup dedicated to migratory birds on the Mississippi River Flyway. Join by sending a two-line email message to "riverbird-request@linus.winona.msus.edu". The message's first line should say "subscribe" and second line "end." If you just want a digest of the day's messages, send the same message to "riverbird-digest-request@linus.winona.msus.edu". Birder Carol Schumaker hopes the newsgroup will increase basic knowledge about birds that migrate through the river valley. "We need people all up and down the river, from the Upper Mississippi to the Gulf," Carol said.

It's in the Water Researchers have not yet determined what is responsible for recent deformities in frogs - algae, plants, synthetic chemicals, viruses, parasites or some combination - but whatever it is, it's in the water. "We're as close to 100 percent sure as you can get," said George Lucier, director of the environmental toxicology program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina. The Institute is working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other partners to track the cause of the deformities. Researchers took water from several wetlands in northwestern Minnesota where deformed frogs were found and from nearby wells. They mixed sample water with tap water in varying ratios, and used the water to grow frogs' eggs. Plain tap water and straight wetland water were also tested. They found that the greater the percentage of sample water from either wetlands or wells, the greater the number of abnormalities. Any concentration greater than 50 percent produced deformed frogs. The next step is a careful chemical analysis of the water to find the source and its (Current events continued on page 8)

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River Calendai ¡. "'

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Special Events & Festivals November 1 Swan Watch Hike, Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, 9:30 a.m., (608) 989-9845. 1-2 Swan Watch Weekend, presentation and bus trip to Weaver Bottoms, Wmona, Minn., (507) 452-2272. 8 Swan Watch Audubon presentation, noon, Rieck's Lake, Ahna, Wis. 21-30 Festival of Trees, Davenport, Iowa. 28 Deadline, session proposals, Soil and Water Conservation Society annual conference, July 5-9, 1998, (515) 289-2331. 29 Deadline, Youth Art Contest, "What the Mississippi River Means to Me." Contact Brian Brecka, (608) 685-6221.

December 5-7 St. Paul (Minn.) Ice Fishing Show, (612) 943-2002. 6 Old Fashioned Christmas, Maiden Rock, Wis. 7 Tour of Homes, Prairie du Chien, Wis. 13-14 Country Christmas, Trempealeau, Wis. Ongoing Bird Watches Through mid November: Tundra Swan Watch, staffed observation deck, Rieck's Lake, Ahna, Wis., (608) 6854249. Through March: EagleWatch, City Deck staffed Sundays 1 p.m. - 3 p.m., Wabasha, Minn., (612) 565-4158.

Meetings & Hearings November 3 Community forum on Prairie Island nuclear waste storage, 4 p.m., Wmona State University, Pasteur Hall, Wmona, Minn., (507) 457-0393. 5 Minnesota DNR Fisheries Public Meeting, 4 p .m. - 8 p.m., Rochester Community and Technical College, (507) 280-5063. 5-6 Environmental Management Program Coordinating Committee, Davenport, Iowa, (612) 224-2880. 6 Minn. - Wis. Boundary Area Commission, 9:30 a.m. - noon, Miss. River Regional Committee; 1:30 p.m. - 3 p.m., legislative Affairs, Buffalo City (Wis.) City Hall, (608) 248-2263, public welcome. 6-7 Midwest Area River Coalition, (MARC 2000), St. Louis, Mo., (314) 436-7303. 12 River Folks, 7 p.m., $3, Heileman Hall, La Crosse, Wis., presentation on Mississippi Valley Conservancy, (608) 785-9994. 18-19 Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, Vicksburg, Miss., (612) 224-2880. 19 Coulee Region Audubon Society, 7 p.m.,

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;

Environmental Management Technical Center, 575 Lester Ave., Onalaska, Wis. Topic: Christmas Bird Count. Slide presentation on historic changes and future management of the Upper Mississippi, Minnesota-Wisconsin Boundary Area Commission. Size limited, pre-registration encouraged. 7 p.m. - 9 p.m., (715) 386-9444 or (612) 436-7131. 3 Steamboat Inn, Prescott, Wisconsin. 10 Public Library, Red Wmg, Minnesota. 12 Moxie's, La Crosse, Wisconsin. 13 St. Mary's University, Wmona, Minn. Advisory Council meetings on the Minnesota Community-Based Planning Act, citizen participation encouraged. 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., (612) 653-0618. 13 Rochester Community College. 17 Normandy Community College, Twin Cities. 18 Century Community College, White Bear Lake. 19 St. Cloud City Hall.

Workshops & Conferences November 5 - 7 International Workboat Show, New Orleans, (207) 842-5508. 13 -14 Third Annual Zebra Mussel Conference, Cincinnati, Ohio, (419) 635-4117. 14 - 16 The Soul of Agriculture, "A New Production Ethic for the 21st Century," Minneapolis, Minn., (202) 537-0191.

21 - 22 Public Forum, "Population, Consumption & Sustainability: Infinite Growth in a Finite World?" U. of Minn, Minneapolis, (612) 433-2427.

December 7-10 Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, "Managing Natural Resources: Integrating Ecology and Society," Milwaukee, Wis., (608) 275-3242. m

(Current events continued from page 7)

potential to harm humans. The state of Minnesota insists there is no clear indication of a human health problem, but as a precaution it is distributing bottled drinking water to four northern Minnesota households whose tap water samples produced deformed frogs. Since August 1995, when children first found them in a farm field near Henderson, 55 miles southwest of Minneapolis, frogs with extra or misshapen limbs, missing or shrunken eyes, and small sex organs have been reported in 38 states, three provinces of Canada, and other sites around the world.

, A , told northwest wind whips the bigrlver into white caps, as it seems to rebel against the notion of lying still and frozen by the approaching winter. A steelgrey sky spits light snow and sleet. Hard frosts come each night. Now and then we get a day or two of sunny, fairly mild weather - a remnant of October. The backwaters are usually frozen solid by Thanksgiving, while the Main Channel stays open

until near Christmas. Diving ducks, northern mallards and tundra swans ride the northern winds downriver. Folks and critters alike make last-minute, frenzied preparations for the long "white spell." Lodges, dens and burrows are insulated with leaves, grasses and

fur. Houses are insulated with storm windows, weather-stripping, p lastic sheets and fiberglass. Cottage pipes are drained. Boats and docks are put up in dry dock. Only the true northern birds, like cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, crows, nuthatches and such remain on the bare branches of the naked trees. A few of the oaks rattle their dead, dry leaves in defiance to the winter winds. . All things look forward to November and the coming of winter because the circle has always turned this way and always will. Won't it my friends? m

Big River

November 1997