While we labor to create the rest of our lives here, the Mississippi River beats incessantly against the concrete shoes of the Washington Avenue Bridge. While I stress about making that critical friend group, the leaves begin their slow, fiery explosion of color. While the pages of my sociology textbook yearn for my eyeballs, Ospreys plunge steeply into the depths of the river for fish. The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Parks System (NPS), bisects our campus and is critical to the University of Minnesota.
I think we forget that a national park exists in the middle of the University. We seem to regard it as a dreaded obstacle to trek across in whipping winds or scorching sun. It is much more than that. It is a stabilizing anchor to the frenzy of our daily life at the University.
I’ve always loved walking the steps and path behind Coffman to the river. At the shore, the river becomes soft and lapping, unlike the abyss-like, brown chasm a solid three seconds below us on the Washington Avenue Bridge. The trees act like cotton balls and dim the sound of the city. You can hear the water, its fluidity lapping on the shore. It’s an incredibly calming noise to hear, when all the water you’ve heard lately has been launched jet speed through a million pipes.
This national park needs care, however. It isn’t an ordinary national park, in that only 64 of the 54,000 acres are owned by the NPS. The rest of the park is a patchwork of private, state and federal agency land. That means that the park is not subject to the full protection or resources that other national parks have.
Running through the the middle of a large metropolis doesn’t help the river’s health either. A 2016 State of the River Report found that although the health of the river has been improved, there are still many concerns. Two new pollutants have begun to undermine the quality of the river: microplastics and pharmaceuticals.
Microplastics and pharmaceuticals are pollutants that we can directly lessen through our consumer actions. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles found in our synthetic clothes, plastic goods and personal care products. Make sure to use reusable goods and buy personal care products with the natural exfoliates. Microplastics can fill up fish stomachs and starve them to death. Pharmaceuticals also cause environmental damage when they find themselves in our water supply. When not properly disposed of, they can cause behavioral changes in animals. The HealthPartners Riverside Clinic on West Bank disposes of medicine for free.
There are many courses of action we can take to improve the Mississippi, but the easiest thing we can do is to simply go outside and enjoy it. Sit under the limestone bluffs and watch the river glide past you, knowing that long ago a Dakota girl once sat there, thinking about life just as you are. You are part of the longer history of this land. Someday, there will be someone sitting in your place on that bluff. Make sure future generations have as beautiful a view as you do. Do your part as a student, Minnesotan and human and contribute your time, money or voice to the Mississippi’s continued recovery. It has blessed our lives immensely: now it is our turn to return the favor.