Melissa A. Clark, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area MN

It’s a common misconception that volunteering for the park means pulling weeds or picking up trash. Potential volunteers are surprised when they learn about the diversity of opportunities at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. These education programs are a great example of how volunteers can support park programs. Our programs are strengthed by the diversity of skills and expertise our volunteers bring.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of our award winning partnership education program Big River Journey. Over the years, this program has brought thousands of St. Paul schoolchildren out on the Mississippi River. The success of Big River Journey led to the development of another partnership program for Minneapolis schoolchildren called Journey to the Falls. One of the great things about these education programs is that it is the first time some students have been on a boat! Both of these programs rely on partners and volunteers to run education stations.

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Students learn about river geology

Big River Journey

During the Big River Journey, students visit four stations focusing on the science and heritage of the Mississippi River while on-board a riverboat!  There are a variety of stations that students can sign-up for including topics like aquatic insects & water quality, birds, floodplain forests,  geology , riverboats, and watershed stewardship.

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What birds can you find along the Mississippi River?

My role was to float between stations offering assistance as needed, whether this was helping kids spot and identify birds a long the river, showing students how to use a microscope, or talking with them as they think through how waterfalls move upstream. My fellow CVA, Regan Baker, helped on other days of this program. Some of our park’s volunteers have been giving their time to program for years and are real pros!

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Macroinvertibates can tell students a lot about water quality

Fall 2016 Big River Journey by the Numbers

  • 59 volunteers
  • 598 volunteer hours
  • 1,611 youth
  • 11 partners

Journey to the Falls

During Journey to the Falls, students visit stations on a riverboat and on land near St. Anthony Falls. This program focuses on the history of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities region and incorporates journaling and sketching. This program is the younger sibling to Big River Journey and, although smaller, offers a unique opportunity for Minneapolis students to have a hands-on learning experience at the river.

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Students learn about the river history while onboard a riverboat

My role on the riverboat was to work with students in using historical maps to see how the Twin Cities area has changed over time, including both the location of industry and communities. On land, I worked at the mock archeoloigcal dig. At this station students unearth artifacts that tell them about industry located around St. Anthony falls in the late 1980’s. Regan and I took opposite schedules so we would each have a chance to work at different education stations.

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This dig site contains artifacts that give clues to river industries

Fall 2016 Journey to the Falls by the Numbers

  • 13 volunteers
  • 75 volunteer hours
  • 450 youth
  • 6 partners

These education programs are a great way for individuals who want to share their interest in geology, biology, history,  and sustainability to inspire the next generation. Not all volunteers are experts in biology, or want to work outside, but all of our volunteers want to support our park! I challenge you to think about how your interests could be used to support an organization that’s important to you.

A special thank you to all our partners and volunteers who make this program a success!

Big River Journey Program Partners
  • Center for Global Environmental Education
  • Friends of the Mississippi River
  • Minneapolis Public Schools
  • MN DNR
  • Minnesota Historical Society
  • Mississippi Park Connection
  • Padleford Packet Boat Co.
  • Saint Paul Audubon Society
  • Saint Paul Public Schools
  • Science Museum of Minnesota
  • Conservation Corps of MN
Journey to the Falls Program Partners
  • Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
  • MPLS Queen Riverboat
  • MN Center for Book Arts
  • MN Historical Society
  • Mississippi Park Connection
  • S. Army Corps of Engineers