The Mississippi River is one of the world’s great rivers and one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet. It is also a defining feature of the North American continent and is home to a diverse collection of wildlife and plant life. In this section of our web site one can learn more about the nature of the park and the research we are conducting to protect it through informed policy decisions.
Mississippi River Facts
Did you know the Mississippi River watershed includes 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces? Or that at Lake Itasca, the Mississippi's source, the river is only 20-30 feet wide and can easily be walked across? Find out more interesting river facts and answers to your river-related questions.
We are mostly an urban/suburban park, but we have areas of forest and backwaters where few people visit. In addition, cities are becoming common places to find wildlife. The Mississippi River is also a major flyway so both resident and migratory birds are common. As a result, we have a wide variety of wildlife and much of our wildlife is easily watched.
How is the Mississippi River? Can I swim in it? Is water pollution improving? Can I eat the fish I catch? National Park Service staff have helped developed the State of the River Report, which assembles and analyzes a wealth of data-and communicates in plain terms how the river is doing, in order to answer these frequently-posed questions.
Climate change is already affecting national parks across the country. Visit our climate change pages to learn more about our changing climate and what you can do to help!
The National Park Service is encouraging boaters to trailer boats around the locks instead of going through them. This will minimize the chance that Asian carp will pass through the locks and into uninfested waters. Please do your part to help stop these fish! Learn more about minimizing lock usage.
North American river otters (Lontra canadensis) are a sign of clean water and a healthy river ecosystem, and are making a comeback in urban stretches of the Mississippi River. Learn more about river otters and how the park studies them with otter "sign surveys".
Migrating waterbirds arrive each fall on the pools of the upper Mississippi River to forage and to follow the river south toward wintering areas. A partnership, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), is monitoring the number of waterbirds for management purposes.
As part of a multi-year vegetation study, scientists for the National Park Service are surveying our plants and forests. Scientists at the Great Lakes Inventorying and Monitoring Network surveyed the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in 2011. The study helps us make informed decisions about resource management and maintenance within the park.
Bald Eagle Survey
Chances are high that you've seen a bald eagle along the Mississippi recently. The National Park Service is studying bald eagles to determine the persistence of various chemicals in the upper Mississippi River, the Saint Croix and the Apostle Islands. Learn more about bald eagle studies and how they relate to the health of the larger river ecosystem.
Cottonwood Tree Restoration
The National Park Service is working with partner organizations the Mississippi Park Connection, Minnesota GreenCorps, Saint Paul Parks and Recreation, and the University of Minnesota, to determine best approaches to restoring young cottonwoods in flood plain forests. Learn more about cottonwood restoration efforts.
Did you know you can help us figure out the distribution of plants and animals in our park? iNaturalist.com is a citizen science project that allows us to track the location of species we are studying, such as otters, and invasive species within our park. Check out our iNaturalist projects: