MISSISSIPPI RIVER STATE FISH WILDLIFE AREA
Imagine an area that includes 15 wildlife management areas and 13 public access areas, spanning more than 24,000 acres, and scattered along 75 miles of two major rivers. Add to this awe-inspiring bluffs that tower over the river valley, providing breathtaking views, and you begin to get some idea of what awaits you at the Mississippi River State Fish and Wildlife Area (MRA).
As its name implies, the area lies within Mississippi River Navigation Pools 25 and 26, and includes portions of both the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. The total project area consists of 24,386 acres of General Plan Lands. Of this total, 16,875 acres are actively managed for wetland habitat enhancement and public recreation.
The Mississippi River Area's main emphasis is wetland management, with waterfowl as the primary species of concern. Hunters, fishermen, boaters and birdwatchers can enjoy the beauty of the area, yet there is ample opportunity for access to civilization just a few miles away.
A drive along the scenic Great River Road leads through Grafton, past Elsah, a quaint 19th century village, and on to Alton, with many antique stores and other accommodations. A ride on the Brussels Ferry takes you across the Illinois River and into Calhoun County where apple orchards and roadside markets await. There is truly something for every type of visitor to the area.
The Mississippi River Area has a rich history. Evidence of millions of years of geological change can be seen throughout, including four to five thousand feet of sedimentary rock. The bluffs between Alton and Grafton are only a tiny fraction of the thousands of feet of rock extending below the surface.
The Ice Age saw the advancement and regression of four glaciers. The last glacier, the Wisconsin, did not enter the area, but the melting ice widened the river valleys and contributed silt, sand and gravels to the two river systems. The melding of two such major river systems strongly influenced both ancient and modern man.
Archeologists have identified four cultural periods within the Upper Mississippi River Valley. They are: Paleo (prior to 5000B.C.); Eastern Archaic (5000 to 1000 B.C.); Woodland (2000 B.C.to 1400 A.D.), and the Mississippian (800 to 1700 A.D.). The Mississippian was strongly influenced by the Woodland Culture as evidenced by large populated sites, intensive agriculture and religious cults.
Europeans began exploring the area in the mid-18th century. By 1824, the importance of the Mississippi River as a trade and transportation route had been established, and Congress appropriated $75,000 to remove dead trees (snags) from the river.
Congress appropriated funds in 1907 to create a six-foot navigation channel, but existing technology was not adequate. The 1927 River and Harbors Act authorized study of the Mississippi between Minneapolis and the Missouri River. The outcome of this study was a 1930 authorization to build 24 low-head dams with locks between Minneapolis and Alton.
In 1944, Congress approved the Flood Control Act, which authorized the development of recreational facilities on public access areas. The Fish and Wildlife Act of 1946 provided for establishment of a General Plan and Cooperative Agreement to use the navigation channel project lands and water for fish and wildlife conservation and management.
The majority of MRA lands and waters are referred to as General Plan lands, under management by the State of Illinois in accordance with a 1961 General Plan and 1963 cooperative agreement with the Department of the Interior. These lands are managed as fish and wildlife areas, while day use and access are under separate lease agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Camping is strictly prohibited in the entire MRA, but is available at Pere Marquette State Park, just north of Grafton on the Great River Road.