Rivers Project



Mailing Address:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
National Great Rivers Museum
#2 Locks and Dam Way
East Alton, IL 62024

The National Great Rivers Museum is located adjacent to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River in East Alton, IL.  


From I-270 North: Take the 367 North exit toward Alton, turn right onto Highway 143 (formerly the Berm Highway). Turn Right at Locks and Dam Way, Continue to the National Great Rivers Museum Parking lot. 

From I-55 South: Take the 270 West exit, exit onto Highway 3 North. Turn left at 143. Turn left at Locks and Dam Way, Continue to the National Great Rivers Museum Parking Lot.

Office: (618) 462-6979


Open Daily: 9:00 am - 5 pm

We are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Years Eve and New Years Day. There are no admission fees to the facility. The museum is ADA accessible. Restrooms, bus parking and picnic facilities are available.

National Great Rivers Museum

Each year millions of people travel to the Mississippi River to learn about its history and its impact on our nation. The National Great Rivers Museum at Melvin Price Locks and Dam, is dedicated to telling the story of the Mississippi River… from her grand history and cultural significance, to her ecological importance and role as a transportation corridor. Choose from these options to find out more of what we have to offer....

Rivers Project Educational Programming

 Glossary of Terms
9 Foot Navigation Channel - A 400 foot wide channel marked by buoys in the river maintained to a 9 foot depth.
Barge - A container vessel designed to be pushed or pulled up or down the river.
Chamber - the enclosed space between the walls, gates, and floor of the lock.
Channel - the deeper part of the river.
Cofferdam - a temporary watertight enclosure.
Confluence - a coming together or gathering at one point.
Dam - An artificial barrier constructed in or across a waterway for the primary purpose of impounding or diverting water.
Draft - The depth of water needed to float a boat, measured from the waterline to lowest point of the boat’s keel. The main channel of the Mississippi River provides a nine-foot draft.
Dredging - To deepen a waterway.
Ecosystem - a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit.
Gulf of Mexico - where the Mississippi River ends.
Illinois River - River begins at Lake Michigan, runs through Illinois and ends at the Mississippi River in Grafton, IL.
Lake Itasca, Minnesota - where the Mississippi River begins.
Levee - an embankment built alongside a river to prevent high water from flooding bordering land.
Lock - A chamber at the dams for bringing boats to the level of the next pool.
Meander - The winding path or course a river takes.
Melvin Price - Congressman from Belleville, IL who was elected to 21 terms.
Micromodel - small scale replica of river or streams.
Miter Gate - 80’ x 60’ gates, hinged on one side and mitered at a 45 degree angle.
Mississippi River - principal river of the United States, 2,350 miles long. Drains all or part of 31 states.
Missouri River - one of the tributaries of the Mississippi. The Missouri river flows in 17 miles North of St. Louis.
Navigation - the act of steering or directing ships from place to place.
Navigation Chart - a guide for boaters showing river information.
Tainter Gate - Supported on two rockers, the tainter gate was convex on the upstream side. The rush of water helped open and close the gates.
Tow Boat - A boat that pushes rather than pulls its river load.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - The federal agency, which is a branch of the Army, designated to make the Mississippi River and other inland waterways navigable.
Watershed - An area drained by a river system.
Valve - A device fitted to a pipeline in which the closure member is either rotated or moved in the waterway so as to control or stop the flow.
 All Star River Explorers
 Mississippi River Timeline

Mississippi River Timeline

About 850
Cahokia Mississippi Indians build largest settlement north of New Mexico
Hernando DeSoto becomes 1st Spaniard to reach the Mississippi River
Louis Joliet & Father Jacques Marquette travel down the Illinois River to the Mississippi River
Lewis & Clark begin their expedition to map and explore the Louisiana Purchase
Congress authorized the Corps to establish a 4 ½ foot channel, to be obtained by dredging, building wing dams and closing secondary channels. Wing dams direct the river's current into a narrower channel, thus causing it to cut a deeper channel.
Congress authorized a 6 foot channel project on the Mississippi, which wasn't complete when it was abandoned in the late 1920s
The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1930 authorized the 9-foot channel project, which called for a navigation channel 9 feet deep and 400 feet wide to accommodate multiple-barge tows. This was achieved by a series of locks and dams, and by dredging. Twenty-three new locks and dams were built on the upper Mississippi in the 1930s in addition to the three already in existence.
Flood Control Act assigned the Corps of Engineers responsibility for flood control engineering works and later for floodplain information services
Nine Foot Channel Opens
All locks and dams completed
Clean Water Act Enacted
Melvin Price Locks and Dam replaces Old Locks 26
The Great Flood of 1993 was a huge, costly, and devastating flood that occurred in the American Midwest from April to October of 1993
The National Great Rivers Museum opens
The famous eagles nest is built on the Berm Highway, Alton, IL
The Worlds Largest Blue Catfish is caught at the Missouri/Mississippi Confluence


 River Adventure

Visit National Great Rivers Museum and Melvin Price Locks and Dam

The museum is open 7 days a week from 9 AM to 5 PM. We are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. All programs and tours are free. The museum is self-guided, however, the museum staff conducts tours of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam daily for public walk-ins only at 10 AM, 1 PM and 3 PM. The museum and locks tour are handicap accessible. Wheelchairs are available from the front desk. The Confluence Store gift shop is open the same hours as the museum.
 Events and Programs

Several family oriented programs and events are offered throughout the year. Visit our events page to find out more. (Need Link)

 Theater Shows
The museum theater has two shows available for viewing, “Power of the River” (approximately 27 minutes long) and "The Mississippi River Water Trail" (approximately 10 minutes long).
 School/Bus Groups
Groups wishing to tour the locks or the museum, need to call the Alton Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-258-6645 to schedule their visit. Group tours of the locks are conducted at 9 AM, 11 AM and 2 PM. Please allow at least 2 hours to visit both the museum and locks and dam. School/children groups require at least one adult chaperone per 10 students. Student activity sheets are available to assist in the museum experience.
 Field Trip/Museum Manners
We want all our visitors to have an enjoyable experience to our facilities. In order to ensure a safe and pleasurable visit for all, the following guidelines have been established: Please - No eating, running, or reckless behavior is permitted in the museum or on the locks and dam. Arrive at your scheduled time or call to report any changes. Prior to arrival, divide large groups into smaller groups of no more than 25 each. Teachers/group leaders should: Be sure all chaperones understand their duties before the visit. Chaperones should: Supervise their group and maintain order. Assist the teacher/group leader in providing a positive learning experience.
 Security Awareness

As a federal facility of the Department of Defense, the museum and locks & dam must be vigilant in their observance of national security guidelines. Visitors need to be aware that security levels can change at anytime and can alter operating procedures at the museum and the lock. Current security levels will be posted on our website. Please call ahead if you have any concerns or questions. The information below indicates the restrictions for each security level: (Note: The Department of Defense does not use the Homeland Security Color Code Designation)

Normal or Peacetime: No restrictions

Alpha: No purses, packs, cell phones, or cameras (except disposable) allowed on the lock tour.

Bravo: Alpha level restrictions apply. A 24-hour advanced reservation is needed for a lock tour.

Charlie: All facilities will be closed.

Delta: All facilities will be closed.

 Lock and Dam Tour Guidelines
  • Groups under the age of 13 MUST have a minimum of 1 chaperone for every 5 students

  • Groups over the age of 13 MUST have a minimum of 1 chaperone for every 10 students

  • Chaperones must remain with their group at all times through the duration of your visit
  • All Tours will be limited to 25 visitors per tour guide

  • Groups are recommended to dress appropriately for the current and predicted weather

CANCELLATIONS: Tours may also be cancelled in the event of extreme or unsafe weather. Tours may also be cancelled due to maintenance, repair, construction or in the event of heightened security levels, which pose a threat to the safety of visitors and staff. If tours are cancelled, groups can request an overview program with video or reschedule.
From Alton, IL: From the Clark bridge, follow IL 143 South two miles to Lock & Dam Way. Turn right. From I-55/64/70 (downtown St. Louis): Go East across the Poplar Street bridge. Take the 3 North exit. Follow it all the way to IL 143 near Wood River. Turn left onto IL 143, and go 2 miles to Lock & Dam Way. Turn left.
 Parking & Picnic Facilities
After unloading at the front of the museum, buses should circle to the left into the bus parking area. A picnic shelter is located near the museum and is available for picnic lunches on a first-come, first-serve basis.

After your tour.... Don't forget to stop by the Confluence Bookstore and check out all the river related books and souvenirs.

Outdoor Activities

 Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary Tour
This tour focuses on prairie restoration and manmade wetlands. The Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary is an example of the Corps' evolving commitment toward sustainable water resource development. This 1,200 acre prairie marsh restoration is an open-space reserve for an abundance of fish, waterfowl, and native marsh plants. Nature trails provide the public with a chance for a closer look at the natural landscape of bottomland prairie and wetlands within a sub-urban environment.
 Eagle Programs, Viewing Opportunities and Ranger Led Viewing
Rangers are on-site to answer your questions and share information on viewing opportunities. Through-out eagle season, Public Eagle Programs/Ranger-Led Viewing are offered at the Rivers Project Office.
 Water Safety
Water safety programs and materials are readily available for Special Events, school programs and State Fairs.

Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. Get your hands on a GPS receiver, then follow these steps to find hidden caches near you.


This event is open to the public of all ages! Come out for FREE and learn the basics on how to use GPS devices and find different caches around Ellis Island, located in the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, West Alton, MO. All equipment will be provided. This is a first come, first serve program for the first 15 attendees. Pre-register by calling the National Great Rivers Museum at 618.462.6979.

2013 Dates

  • Wed June 5th 5:30-7:30
  • Sat June 22nd 10:00 - 12:00
  • Wed July 3rd 5:30-7:30
  • Sat July 20th 10:00 - 12:00
  • Sat Aug 3rd 10:00 - 12:00
  • Wed Aug 14th 5:30-7:30
  • Sat Aug 24th 10:00 - 12:00

Indoor Classroom Activities

A Ranger led program about birds introducing students to the Bonkers for Birds program. Each class is given a bird species to do as an art/language project. This program starts in November; teachers can register by calling the National Great Rivers Museum at 618-462-6979.

Educational Resources

 John Madson Memorial Library
The resource library is located at the Rivers Project Office in West Alton, Missouri. Educators can take advantage of the many publications on wetlands, habitats, and nature guides, along with engineering and navigation publications. Take time to surf the Internet to further research you project or interest. The herbarium is a also a great way to get a close look at native prairie grasses and forbs found in the Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area.

Most of the written materials in the library were donated to the Rivers Project, by John Madson's wife, Dycie. John Madson was author of many books and articles. He had work published in the Smithsonian, Audubon, & National Geographic magazines.

 Video Resources
Videos are an excellent way for people to learn about Locks & Dams, Eagles, Flooding, and Wetlands without leaving the classroom. Many of our videos are around 30 minute long and can be checked out by visiting or calling the Rivers Project in West Alton, Missouri, at (636) 899-2600 or toll free at 1-888-899-2602.
 Area Resources
To find our more about other museums and places to visit in the surrounding Riverbend area, please call the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Center, (800) ALTON-IL (258-6645).