Lasting partnerships coming together at the confluence of America’s great rivers

St. Louis District
Published Nov. 6, 2012
A young girl learns more about the river community at the Audubon Center at Riverlands. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District photo by Public Affairs Specialist Romanda Walker)

A young girl learns more about the river community at the Audubon Center at Riverlands. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District photo by Public Affairs Specialist Romanda Walker)

For some visitors, it may appear the concrete and steel chambers jetting into the waters of the Mississippi River at the Melvin Price Locks and Dam seem to divide the river, cutting into the water, separating the channel and creating a barrier for wildlife.

For thousands living and working along the banks of the river, however, the hulking U.S. Army Corps of Engineer structure protects nature and brings organizations together.

As millions of tons of commodities pass through her chambers each year, the Melvin Price Locks and Dam plays host to more than 325 species of North American waterfowl and songbirds, including endangered and threatened species that migrate along the Mississippi Flyway.

More than 190,000 families, teachers, students and nature-loving tourists flock to the locks and the surrounding water campus each year.

Located two miles downstream from her predecessor, Lock and Dam 26, the Melvin Price Locks and Dam, completed in 1994, is the most recent built and largest lock on the Upper Mississippi River. On the confluence of the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers, the facility was originally designed to help control the Mighty Mississippi River’s flow, providing a pool upstream for navigation.

Like the confluence she resides at, the Mel Price project brings together the various missions of the Corps of Engineers, forming partnerships around her existence.  

These unique partnerships have formed between federal, state, local and non-federal entities, all intertwining their missions to combine resources, talents and dedication.

“The valuable partnerships that are formed at the Melvin Price Locks and Dam allow the Corps more opportunities to connect people to the river,” Charlie Deutsch, wildlife biologist at the Rivers Project Office said.

Set in 3,700 acres of prairie marsh and forest, adjacent to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam, the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, exemplifies a balanced management approach between sustaining the rivers as a national transportation corridor and recognizing the environmental attributes of the area.

Designed as a flow-through wetland with controlled water levels this area hosts an abundant array of waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors to delight birdwatchers of all ages. More than 60 percent of American waterfowl such as the bald eagles, white pelicans and trumpeter swans make a special visit to Riverlands each year.

Through its partnership with the National Audubon Society, Riverlands became the home to the new Audubon Center at Riverlands last fall. This world class facility gives visitors to the Center a first-hand experience witnessing birds in their natural habitat.

“The Audubon Center’s perfect location near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers will provide tremendous opportunities for education, conservation and recreation for the public,” Dr. Patricia Hagen, executive director of the Audubon Center at Riverlands said. “From here, visitors can learn about the natural environment and wildlife around them, then go out and reconnect in the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary.”

Located on the Illinois side of Melvin Price Locks and Dam, the National Great Rivers Museum aims to educate visitors about the diverse purposes served by the Mississippi River: as an artery for waterborne commerce, as a source of water and other nourishment, and her significant interaction with the environment.

“The National Great Rivers Museum is dedicated to telling the story of the Mississippi River and how it connects to all of the other surrounding areas and public lands that border it on each side,” Janet Mifflin, St. Louis District park ranger.

Through exhibits, movies, special educational programming and tours of the locks and dam, visitors learn about the history of the river, its modern-day uses, culture and ecology.

Support for events and programming such as eagle events, summer camps, river kayaking and paddling events are offered from a partnership with the nonprofit Meeting of the Rivers Foundation.

Located south of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam and just a parking lot away from the museum, Lewis and Clark College’s National Great Rivers Research and Education Center enables biologists with the Corps of Engineers and NGRREC scientists the ability to study the interaction between land and water at the state-of-the-art facility. The Field Station was dedicated in 2010 by Congressman Jerry Costello.

In combination with NGRREC’s environmental education programs and the outreach efforts at the National Great Rivers Museum, both organizations are able to reach a larger, more diverse audience.

"Our close proximity to one another allows us the ability to provide a wide range of visitors the unique opportunity to learn about the Mississippi River," Mifflin said.

The museum serves to connect people to an important part of the river, where a lasting partnership between the Corps and the river industry have been strengthened by the locks and dam.

The 1,200-foot chamber of her locks allows material such as coal, grains and petroleum to travel the river. River navigation is the most efficient and environmentally friendly modes of transportation. Barges are able to move a ton of cargo; 600 miles on a gallon of diesel fuel, compared to 430 miles per gallon for trains, and 60 miles per gallon for trucks. To ensure commodities can move, industry and the Corps work in concert to address challenges on an ever-changing river.

“Our relationship with the Corps is very proactive, whenever a situation arises on the river, I know that I can give them a call and they are always willing to help,” Shannon Hughes a port manager and member of the River Industry Action Committee said.

Melvin Price Locks and Dam is a centerpiece for the navigation efforts at the St. Louis District, where the Mississippi transitions from locks and dams to open river.

“Without their dedication to maintaining a safe and dependable navigation channel with dredging and with river training structures, we would not be able to bring the quantity of products up and down the river.”

The long-standing partnerships that have formed at the Great Rivers confluence have given the Corps of Engineers the unique ability to connect people with the river, nature and the environment. Through these collaborative efforts the St. Louis District continues to enhance its navigation, ecosystem restoration, environmental stewardship and recreation missions.

“The location of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam allows us the opportunity to educate people about the environment, but also our navigation missions—dredging and channel maintenance— and our recreation mission,” Kimberly Rea, recreation manager at the St. Louis District’s Rivers Project Office said.

The confluence of rivers, missions and partnerships that have formed around the Mel Price project illustrate the balance that can be achieved between the Corps’ diverse missions in the 21st century.