River Talk

River Talk has Moved!

We are pleased to announce that the River Talk blog has moved over to our new web site at http://riverlife.umn.edu/rivertalk/

You can find our RSS feed here for pasting into the feed reader of your choice.

Don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, as well as see our new web site at http://riverlife.umn.edu

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly at holr0002@umn.edu.
Thanks everyone!
This seems to be the week to write about national parks in transition.  Wednesday's main post concerns changing demographics and the national parks as a national, system-wide issue and offered one local solution.  Today, I'll offer you an article on threats to a regional system, and a potential "global" response.

A recent news article which was referenced on Twitter points out myriad subtle ways that climate change threatens parks around the Great Lakes.  A shorter ice season, changed animal habitat associated with warming, increased wave activity from changing hydrologic cycles may not individually add up to much.  But cumulative effects are likely to alter dramatically the parks that currently attract some 4 million visitors per year.

One response, which may foretell far-reaching shifts in public attitudes, is to declare the Great Lakes a "commons."  This is precisely what a recent gathering of diverse advocates did, hoping to draw attention to the vast importance of the Great Lakes themselves as storehouses of freshwater and the source of highly diverse aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.  

I see two significant developments perhaps coming from the commons declaration.  First, a diverse set of advocacy organizations, each of which focuses on different components of the broad complexity of the region, can have a broader impact than single groups.  Second, this coalition may succeed in raising the visibility of the Lakes, helping us all understand how important they are to all of us and belonging to all of us.  

What we all hold in common, we all take care of.
An extended, thorough article on MSN.com raises several provocative questions about the relationships of the national park system and non-white populations.  As the country's population diversifies, and with some estimates seeing non-Hispanic whites as a demographic minority by mid-century, visits to the national parks by non-white populations continue to lag far behind.

Why might this be, and why does it matter?  Finally, what can or should be done about this?

I strongly encourage study, maybe even (gasp) printing out and keeping, the article.  But I'll offer a couple of summary points.

As for why certain populations may not visit the parks, the survey on which the article is based shows a range of answers, topped by a lack of familiarity with the parks and what they have to offer.  Face it, for almost anyone, if you don't know anyone who has had a particular experience, and aren't that familiar yourself, you're not all that likely to try it.  Especially for recreation activities, lots of people stick to the familiar.

And there's also an issue of how park activities are shown.  Do we see pictures of people just hanging out, enjoying time with their friends and family, in places like Yosemite or Grand Teton?  Usually the images are of active wilderness sports like hiking or kayaking (preferably with expensive gear playing a prominent role).

Why does this matter?  One obvious reason is that as the country diversifies, lawmakers will diversify as well.  If there's no personal knowledge or experience of parks and the outdoors, for whatever reason, political support is likely to fade.  

Another reason comes from the parks' mission itself.  National parks represent the American story, in all of its grandeur, complexity, contestedness.  But if someone doesn't see themselves in that story, then the mission, laudable though it may be, fails.

So what is being done?  Here in the Twin Cities, along the Upper Mississippi, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area has teamed with Wilderness Inquiry, the Mississippi River Fund, and the City of Minneapolis school system to develop the Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventure.  Nearly 10,000 young people will go on canoe trips in the city, demonstrating that you don't have to go far to have an inclusive, rewarding, outdoor river experience.  There's a great video from the 2010 season here.

UWCA is a great start, but it's only a start.  What else do you think should be priority efforts to establish better connections between ALL the people of the region and their national park?

A couple of exciting series have gotten going again this summer on the Minneapolis Central Riverfront.  Now that temps have moderated a bit, it might be worthwhile checking these out!

Indigenous Music and Movies takes place every Tuesday evening.  Go to the poster link poster link here for more details.

Mill City Museum continues its concert series in the courtyard on Thursdays.  Learn more here.

Bringing people to the riverfront:  key to long term health!
In fact, Big River Magazine is one of the best ways to learn about the Upper Mississippi.  Although he concentrates on the couple of hundred miles between the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN) and the Quad Cities (Moline and Rock Island IL, Bettendorf and Davenport IA) editor Reggie McLeod is broadly interested in the river all the way down to St. Louis.

"Broadly interested" is a good phrase to describe Reggie and Big River.  The web site has lots of fun stuff, such as tracking the blogs of adventurers going down the river on everything from paddleboards to canoes.  All of the links to river management agencies for this stretch of the river are linked here.  And the site contains a good listing of current issues affecting the river, the valley, and the communities that call this area home.

For what it's worth, I think the most beautiful stretch of the entire Mississippi River is the part between LaCrosse WI and Dubuque IA.  If you ever find yourself with a spare weekend, make the trip.  And use Reggie McLeod's Big River magazine and web site to plan your trip.

You can thank me when you get back!
Two GREAT opportunities coming up this Thursday, August 4 in Minneapolis!

Riding The Northside Riverfront
August 4, 5:00-6:45
Departs Farview Park, 29th Ave. N. and Lyndale, Minneapolis

Minneapolis Bike Ambassadors will join us on this bike ride from Farview Park to the Mississippi, up to North Mississippi Regional Park, and back to Farview by 6:45.

Registration is free, but is required.  Register here.  

Please bring your bicycle and helmet.
Need a bike? Check out a NiceRideMN bike at 26th Avenue North and Lyndale (credit card needed).
Minneapolis Bike Ambassadors will bring some helmets to borrow.
People under 18 will need a guardian's signature.
Great River Outings are a new series of North and Northeast Minneapolis tours
highlighting destinations on our Mississippi riverfront "Above the Falls."

Email info@minneapolisriverfrontpartnership.org, or call Cordelia at 612-465-8780 x212

After the ride, join the public discussion on the riverfront's future at Farview Park!

You're encouraged to find out more about RiverFIRST, 7-9:00PM this Thursday, August 4, at our next community meeting, where we'll also ask you to share your thoughts about why the river is important and what should come next. (Map and directions) Folks from the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership and the City of Minneapolis will also present and be available for questions.

Farview Park is one of the oldest parks in Minneapolis, situated atop what is considered the high point in the city. Today, you can still enjoy panoramic views of the Minneapolis skyline, as well as the Mississippi River, only a short distance to the east.  But Interstate 94 cuts off access to the river from this great park--is it possible to rejoin river and city?

Come find out and share your ideas!

So I've written about the sorts of things I glean from monitoring blogs and Google Alerts.  As for Twitter, I read recently that only about 10% of the US population uses Twitter for professional communications, but those 10% are the innovators in media and technology.  Incidentally, they also include a lot of government agencies at all levels.  Of the 125 or so Twitter feeds that I follow, some, such as the Columbia Water Center and the Sustainable Cities Initiative, are university-based organizations.  But far more, including NOAA, EPA, Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, State of Minnesota MPCA, and cities and counties, are from public agencies.  

"Back in the day" (and I'm definitely old enough to use that expression!) you had to be on innumerable mailing lists to keep up with the flows of reports, announcements, policy updates and news from the agencies involved with rivers.  Now, just follow their Twitter feeds, which often include a web link and sometimes a direct connection to a pdf document, and you're all set.

But I still haven't answered the question of why I do this, have I?

I think there are several reasons, most of which stem from the main mission of the River Life Program, which is to "create, gather, and distribute integrative knowledge that lets universities and their partners work together to create inclusive, sustainable rivers."

That's a mouthful, ok, I know.  Mission statements are meant to be read in small chunks, I think.  But clearly digital media are central in the 21st century to folks who are serious about the effort to "gather and distribute" new knowledge.  And knowledge is no longer held just in refereed journals written by and for academic elites.  Those are still important, but the translation of that peer-reviewed information to knowledge that helps people do work "on the ground" (or on the water) is vital.

And it's that translation that is the heart of the matter for me, that and "integrative" which I'll pick up another time.  

Everyone is busy, whether you're a program administrator or teacher at a university, or an agency researcher or interpretive planner off campus.  No one has time to even look through all this stuff in the digital realm, much less read, digest, understand, and put new knowledge to work.

This is where River Life plays a pivotal role.  We will be rolling out some new platforms for communication in the next few weeks, with the goal of becoming a helpful "one stop" for audiences on campus and off.  

What are the latest insights on river sustainability from academic resources?  

Who has found innovative ways to involve community groups that have not been represented before?  

What are the best case studies of river protection going forward?  

These are the things we're seeking and what we're trying to convey to people, whether advocates off campus, students looking for a leg up on a research project, or anyone else who is trying to be, in the great phrase "the best at 'next'"

What knowledge would enhance your work, and how can we make that accessible to you?

So I've written recently about blogs I follow, and I thought I'd continue the "how we do it"series with a discussion of Google Alerts.  For those of you new to this game of learning as much from the internet as possible, a Google Alert allows you to ask the elves at Google to send you an email any time their crawl finds a web site with your requested word or phrase in it.  For quite some time, I've had an alert for "Mississippi River," which notifies me of fishing tournaments, tragic accidents, travel stories, in addition to the policy and science I'm looking for.  I recently set one up for "river flooding" also.

Of course you don't have to use this tool just for work related matters, but I'd suggest that if you're on a company computer you should be careful about the kinds of "hobby" searches you sign up for!

Well, anyway, here is a very brief sampling of the material I've gotten in the past few days from my river and flood alerts.

Some of the river flooding stories, such as this brief item from an Illinois television station are quite local.  Others are longer, continuing coverage of an issue that has been months in the making.  For example, the Yankton (SD) Press and Dakotan covers a recent announcement on the Corps of Engineers ongoing response to the flooding Missouri River with detail and context.  A good, informative piece.  

As for the Mississippi River, a story from the Quad Cities (Moline and Rock Island, IL and Bettendorf and Davenport, IA) shows that last week's epic rains in Dubuque (over 14 inches in one 24-hour period, and 3 more inches the day  after that) is in fact leading to sporadic flooding downstream.  But we can also learn about other kinds of cool stuff, such as Winona author Pamela Eyden's revised edition of a book on Mississippi River towboats.  

And so it goes, the stream of information from, literally, all over the world.

OK, maybe you can see why this is fascinating, but why is it maddening, as I suggested in the title?  There's always something going on, and sometimes there is a LOT going on.  Separating wheat from chaff can be difficult, and it is sometimes very hard to determine what issue or story has long term value and what has simply been repeated a lot on a slow news day.

In short, it's a lot like the internet itself:  broad and wide, but with depth that varies greatly.

So why do I do it?  Hmmmm...better think on that and write another post soon.

As described on this Patch.com story from Stillwater, today saw a Senate subcommittee hearing on the St. Croix River crossing bill.

Is it just me, or is there something nicely ironic about reading Tweets on a controversy that has been going on for over 20 years?  That's gotta be at least three generations of communication technology!

Read the story and watch the video to learn more on the substantive results.

Blog Roll 2--arts AND science

The whole notion of "sustainability" in our focus on an inclusive, sustainable future for rivers points attention directly to questions of values and culture.  As I wrote here a couple of weeks ago, a "fourth R" for sustainability might be "Rethink." (The post was River Talk July 13, in case the software just dumps you into the blog).

But how do we learn to rethink how we live with rivers?  One of the really dynamic regional sustainability blogs, Green City, Blue Lake, offers a notice of an upcoming event near Cleveland that might be helpful.   A neighborhood "sustainability week" proposes to take the "no impact project " up in scale to "neighborhood."  Why not try it at a watershed or subwatershed level?
Something like "no impact week" sounds hard, requiring lots of commitment.  Where do we get visions or stories of what that new life, and its connection to rivers, might be?  One perhaps obvious point is to make the change fun.  As reported in Indian Country Today, this year's First Peoples' festival in Montreal brings together indigenous artists and others from across the world in a week-long festival celebrating films, concerts, and visual arts.   My guess is that festival-goers might learn a few things about sustainable relationships with the earth and with each other, maybe without the word "sustainability" even being spoken.  Going to be in Montreal next week?  Stop in and see if I guessed right!

Closer to home, the blog of the Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative posts community responses on what the Mississippi River "could be" in Minneapolis.

Finally, the "Aquadoc," Michael Campana posted an excerpt from Luna Leopold's "A Reverence for Rivers."  Leopold, son of the great writer and conservationist Aldo Leopold, was one of the most prominent hydrologists in the United States in the 20th century.  

Which just goes to show the even scientists need literature and art, inspiring visions and narratives of what our world could be.

What are your inspiring visions and narratives?  Share them with me and I'll post, along with the sources.

  The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.

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