Nature & Science

A small brown animal, known as the North American river otter, rests partially submerged in a creek.
This otter, spotted on Minnehaha Creek, is one of increasingly common sightings of this once rare species. Our research is helping us better understand their resurgence.

NPS/Gordon Dietzman


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.


Areas around rivers often have complex ecosystems and, as a result, are home to a wide variety of plants.

A report cover showing a bridge, city skyline and river.

Science and Research

State of the River Report

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.

The Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network (GLKN)

From silent headwater streams to the wide expanses of Lakes Michigan and Superior, one can find water of every kind in the nine parks of the Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network. But the national parks protect more than just outstanding waters. The parks are also a place to track wildlife and plant populations, changes in the landscape, and the effects of pollution on the environment. Great Lakes Network scientists use the parks for science and the science is used to help the parks manage their resources. Learn more about the research and collaboration between GLKN and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

Forest Management Assessment

The Forest Management Assessment is a continuation of the Missississippi National River and Recreation Area's Vegetation Survey completed in 2015. The assessment added 400 additional data points and developed five metrics focusing on forested habitats within the Park. These metrics take into account current and potential future conditions to score specific sites and habitat types. These scores rank which sites are more likely candidates for future restorations, or determine which habitat types may require replacement after conditions like the emerald ash borer infestation or climate change alter species composition in the locations.

Climate Change

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!

Water Quality

Find out what's being done to clean up the river, get informed about what you can do to reduce the amount of pollutants entering the river and join up with others to make a difference. Learn more about water quality in the Mississippi River.

Invasive Asian Carp

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is working on an Action Plan to stop Asian carp as far down stream as possible. Are you curious about why these fish are so bad? Read about how Asian carp might impact our rivers and lakes, how they spread, and what they eat.

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.

River Otters

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".

Waterbird Survey

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.

Vegetation Survey

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.

Get Involved

Did you know you can help us figure out the distribution of plants and animals in our park? 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:

Last updated: May 1, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
Saint Paul, MN 55101


(651) 293-0200
This is the general phone line at the Mississippi River Visitor Center. Please leave a voicemail if we miss your call and expect a return call within 1 day, often sooner.

Contact Us