Rivers Project

Audubon Center at Riverlands Button

Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Audubon Center at Riverlands combines the strength of Audubon with the support of local partners to connect people with the power, beauty, and natural diversity of our nations's greatest river - the Mississippi. The Audubon Center at Riverlands near St. Louis is part of a unique network of Audubon Centers nationwide.

A flagship project of the National Audubon Society and Audubon Missouri, the new Center offers world class birding, education, and outdoor opportunities along one of the most significant migratory flyways in the world - the Mississippi River.

The Center embodies a unique partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Rivers Project Office within its Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary and the National Audubon Society. The Sanctuary provides excellent opportunities for Audubon and the Corps to partner on education and outreach, conservation, and recreational opportunities for the public. Audubon also works with the Corps on river policy issues, both locally and throughout the Mississippi River watershed.

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In January 2006, the Environmental Demonstration Area became the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary (RMBS). This change was made due to the area being designated as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. The Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary encompasses a total of 3700 acres. Within the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a 1200 acre wetland/prairie restoration project.

On Friday, June 12, 1998 the Corps of Engineers dedicated the Environmental Demonstration Area. The dedication event allowed for the Corps of Engineers, our partners, and our supporters to recognize the Corps commitment to stewardship and how through our partners and the support of the community we have and are continuing to expand environmental education and outdoor recreation opportunities. Recognizing the need and social relevance for wetland restoration in the Riverlands service area, the staff developed a plan to restore and protect 1,200 acres of wetlands located within the Environmental Demonstration area and adjacent to the Melvin Price Locks & Dam.

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. January and February are especially busy with eagle-watchers from near and far that enjoy viewing our national symbol. The Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area (EDA) represents the Corps commitment to restoring environmentally and historically significant remnants of land. Click here for a map of the entire Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The RMBS exemplifies a balanced management approach between sustaining the rivers as a national transportation corridor and recognizing the environmental attributes of the area. The project utilizes the river's continuing influence to create bottomland wet prairie and marsh land to that which existed prior to the settlement of man in the area.

A short drive from the city, just 40 minutes from downtown St. Louis , open space, fresh air, and spectacular views of nature's glory are within your reach. The Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a place where families, school classes, and groups can visit to learn about the importance of habitat protection and restoration while balancing mans' disturbances with protected refuges.

The RMBS includes Ellis Bay Waterfowl Refuge, Teal Pond, Heron Pond, Native Prairie Restoration Project, Least Tern Habitat Project Freshwater Marshes, Trails plus many educational resources.

Public facilities and trails throughout the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary have been built by Eagle Scouts from the St. Louis Council, Boy Scouts of America. More projects which will help the public get a better view of wildlife and plant life within the RMBS continue.
 Ellis Bay
...the old Alton Slough area, was the effect of impounding of the two miles of navigation channel between the old Locks and Dam 26 and Melvin Price Locks and Dam. The impoundment of the new pool occurred in February 1990. This 800 acre backwater area provides excellent habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, and fish. There are many submerged islands in this bay, however, some of the backwater habitat is being lost due to siltation. The greatest factor leading to the continued existence of this quality backwater is its position relative to the major river channel, providing protection during periods of high flow and silk-laden waters. Ellis Island provides nature trails, blinds and fishing banks. From October 1 to April 30, Ellis Bay is limited to bank fishing only. Boats are restricted form this area to allow for a waterfowl refuge during migrations.

Click Here to Link to an online Waterfowl Identification Guide
 Teal Pond
Teal Pond is a 67 acre lake that was created by more than 8 feet of seepage ground water from the Melvin Price Pool. The process of seepage lasted approximately 10 months beginning with the impoundment of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam in February 1990 with an average head of 4 feet. The pond was initially stocked with 30,000 Bluegill; 12,000 Red-ear sunfish; and 6,000 channel catfish in October 1990, and 6,000 largemouth bass in the spring of 1991. Electroshock and creel surveys have recently been conducted to determine if Teal Pond warrants re-stocking of fish populations. This resource is managed for recreational fisheries in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Enforcement of fishing seasons, creel limits, and other regulations will fall under the Missouri Wildlife Code, Special Management Areas.
 Heron Pond
Heron Pond is created through the changes in water control structures. This pond serves as a common rest area for many waterfowl during migration times and throughout the winter, as long as it isn’t frozen. Trails lead one around the pond, allowing for a closer view of the wetland wildlife and vegetation, as well as the prairie. Beavers frequent the outlets of the pond and some times cause inconveniences for Rangers trying to drawdown the water for vegetation management. However, no action has been taken to remove the species from the sanctuary.

No fishing is allowed in Heron Pond at any time of year. This is mainly due to the fact that it has never been stocked and/or maintained as a recreational fishery.

A new gravity drain has been placed under Riverlands Way. This gated drain will allow water from the river to flow in/out of Heron Pond. This will improve management of the lower marsh areas in the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary to accommodate more wildlife and aquatic organisms.
 Native Prairie Restoration
Located along the Mississippi River in Missouri, just south of RT 67, is a native prairie Restoration Project. The project initially provided a cost-effective, biological method of controlling weeds which are not native to this area and through long-term management plans will provide nesting and habitat protection for wildlife and plant life. The prairie marsh complex has been set aside as a refuge in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Access is limited to selected trails systems and disturbance will be controlled during waterfowl migrations.

The prairie is maintained by prescribed burning. As part of the 1,200-acre prairie marsh wetland complex, approximately 100 acres are used for fire beaks - cleared rows of brush. Cool season grass firebreaks (100 acres) were planted in Timothy and Redtop. Using 7,000 pounds of native grass seed and with the consultation of the Missouri Department of Conservation, these wetlands were planted in wet and wet-mesic regimes. The wet-mesic or semi-wet regimes (350 acres) are planted with identical grasses in different ratios complemented with Indian grass.
 Least Tern Floating Habitat Project
By setting up two pontoon dredge barges we were able to provide managed artificial sandbar habitat for the Interior Least Tern on this stretch of the Mississippi River. It was expected that this habitat would provide ideal nesting and breeding conditions for the birds. The project was monitored five days a week by a National Great Rivers Research and Education Center Intern. Monitoring of the nesting site observed mating rituals, decoy interaction, feeding of the young, and colony defenses against avian predators. Banding was conducted by Illinois Department of Natural Resources and The Illinois Natural History Survey.
 Freshwater Marshes
As part of the 1,200-acre prairie-marsh complex, 300 acres of freshwater marshes are dispersed throughout the prairie. These marshes range from 50 acres to water-filled ditches, all the way down to small potholes. Average depth of the marshes is approximately 18 inches. The marshes provide excellent food sources and nesting habitat for migrating birds.

Marshes are created during the winter months, by siphoning water from the river across a levee and into the Melvin Price Locks & Dam spillway. This makes us of no pumps therefore relying on no external energy sources. The siphon allows for temporary additional wetland habitat area of about 16 acres, which is enjoyed by many waterfowl species during migration.
 Trails throughout the Sanctuary
This trail was constructed solely by Boy Scouts from the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. The construction of the trail began in 1992 and was destroyed by the 1993 flood. In 1996, the project was again started by a Boy Scout from troop #271. The project was undertaken by Adam Neidringhaus so that he could obtain Eagle Scout status. Adam laid out the trail and did all the initial work. We thank Adam for his work on the trail, which still remains today.

Trails are closed from October 15th through April 15th. During this time the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary is closed to foot traffic due to the migration of various waterfowl and shorebirds.

•For the safety of visitors, plants, and animals, please stay on the trails. Drifting off of the trail could damage this treasured area and possibly destroy endangered organisms. Please do not pick any plants or leave any litter behind.
•To view a diverse array of animals, walk in the morning or late in the evening when animals are most active. Animals frequently sun themselves on the trail, so move slowly and quietly, and stop often to look and listen. There are many places where animal tracks can be found.
•Carry binoculars, animal and bird guides, checklists, and a camera for unforgettable memories.
•For comfort, walk the trail on days when temperatures are between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. These are the best temperatures for visiting the prairie. Take plenty of water, a hat, sunglasses, and sun screen on hot days. Always wear long pants to protect from insect bites and cuts from the tall grasses.

Following these tips will give you a very enjoyable experience. Thank you for supporting our trails and learning about our precious natural resources.
 Swan Diverters
October 2010, American Missouri, with oversight from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installed 1,000 "swan diverters" on several miles of high-voltage "transmission" power lines that cross the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary on the Mississippi River, near West Alton, Mo. in an effort to protect the Trumpeter Swans.

The devices - each about 12 inches long and resembling a giant yellow corkscrew- were installed by workers from helicopters hovering above the USACE sanctuary. They were placed on the highest static wires of non-electic transmission towers - towers that are designed to absorb lightning strikes - as means of alerting swans.

Each winter, about 500 swans from Upper Midwest breeding grounds winter at the sanctuary. Agents from the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement, USACE and officials from Ameren Missouri became concerned about evidence of swans being injured or killed by flying into the transmission wires. With the diverters in place, the birds should be better able to see the structures and fly over or under them.

John Christian, Assistant Director of Migratory Birds and State Programs, USFWS noted that this growing winter population supports the Mississippi Flyway Council's efforts to disperse the wintering population of this Upper Midwest nester to suitable sites well south of the breeding range where they find both abundant forage and a more hospitable climate." Christian added that "we are most pleased to see industry partnering on protecting these majestic birds."

Charlie Deutsch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adds that helping the wintering swans is in line with the sanctuary's and the Corp's commitment to stewardship, environmental education and expanded outdoor recreation opportunities. "The swan project allows us to balance the role of rivers in a national transportation corridor, the environmental attributes of the area and the modern-day need for power," he says. "It's a very unique and creative project."
 Educational Resources
John Madson Memorial Library
This 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. Many excellent videos are available through the library and are a way for people to learn about Locks & Dams, Eagles, Flooding, and Wetlands. Many of our videos are around 30 minutes long and can be checked out by visiting or calling the Rivers Project Office.
Most of the written materials in the library were donated to the Rivers Project, by John Madson's wife, Dycie. John Madson was the author of many books and articles. An Iowa native, John and his wife retired in the Alton area. John wrote about the natural history and resource conservation of rivers, prairies, and deserts. He had work published in the Smithsonian, Audubon & National Geographic magazines. He passed away in 1995.

Environmental Learning Facility (ELF)
The Environmental Learning Facility is located along Riverlands Way in West Alton Missouri within the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Take Highway 67 across the Clark Bridge to the first left and follow the road or take 270 West to 367 North and turn onto Riverlands Way before crossing the Clark Bridge. This classroom, overlook Ellis Bay, is an excellent way to conduct an activity indoors, when you cannot go outside or when classroom facilities are needed. The ELF can hold up to 75 people. The ELF is equipped for showing videos. Chairs and tables are provided. To reserve use of this facility, please contact Interpretive Services at the National Great Rivers Museum at (618)462-6979 or toll free at (877)462-6979.

Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary Nature Trail
This tour focuses on prairie restoration and manmade wetlands. The 3700 acre 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. Appropriate for all Ages.

Interior Least Tern Floating Habitat Project