Upper Mississippi RiverIowa, Illinois, Minnesota,
Missouri, Wisconsin
American Heritage Rivers

The Mississippi River is perhaps the most renowned of America's great rivers. It is 2,340 miles long, making it the longest river in North America. And it drains 1.15 million square miles in the Midwest, the third-largest river basin in the world. For generations, the river known as the "Father of Waters" and the "Big Muddy" has inspired artists and writers, including Mark Twain.

Since 1682, when the explorer LaSalle claimed the entire Mississippi Valley for France, the river has been central to the economy of the region. Today, millions of people live in towns large and small along the Mississippi. A number of major cities grew up as river ports, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans.

River Resources

The Mississippi remains a key economic link through America's heartland. For centuries, floods have replenished the fertile soil of the river's floodplain, and agriculture forms the back of the river valley's economy. The paddlewheelers of the 18th century have given way to tugs and barges, which each year move more than 90 million tons of cargo on the Upper Mississippi.

The river also helps sustain one of the most diverse wildlife populations in the world. Its floodplains include dense forests of maple, cottonwood and willow, which support eagles, herons and egrets. More than 400 species of fish thrive in the river, and both commercial and recreational fishing are widespread. In addition, the river provides temporary refuge for 40 percent of North America's migratory waterfowl.

Action Plan

The American Heritage Rivers designation for the Upper Mississippi encompasses 58 communities from St. Louis to St. Paul, which together are known as the "String of Pearls." Among their many plans are redevelopment of St. Louis' aging port with housing, museums and greenways; creation of a 70,000-square-foot Mississippi River Discovery Center in Dubuque; and establishment of the Tom Sawyer University in the Quad Cities to teach the public about the river through classes on land and on the water. Plans also include a regional marketing strategy highlighting the river?s cultural and natural heritage, and creation of a network of trails along the riverbanks.


The Honorable Robert Maloney, Mayor - City of Hannibal, MO (573) 221-0111
The Honorable Terry Duggan, Mayor - City of Dubuque, IA (319) 556-2525
Kathy Wine, River Action, Inc., Davenport, IA (319) 322-2969

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