Friends of Pool 9: An award-winning volunteer organization committed to the well-being of Pool 9 on the Mississippi River; Annual clean-up this Saturday

Early efforts ... Friends of Pool 9 volunteers gather on the shoreline below the Lansing VFW for a group photo before deploying to all parts of the 31-mile long Pool 9 during the 2007 Mississippi River Clean-Up. Since its inception, the Friends of Pool 9 effort has resulted in more than 9,300 volunteer hours removing nearly 82 tons of debris from the river, and Friends of Pool 9 volunteers intend to add to those totals this Saturday, April 23 with this year’s clean-up event. Submitted photo.

by Julie Berg-Raymond

People who grew up on the lower Mississippi River - south of St. Louis, MO - tend to express astonishment and delight when they visit the upper part of the river. They notice the natural beauty of the landscape; but they notice something else, as well: People actually recreate - water-ski; jet-ski; fish; camp; boat for pleasure; even, sometimes, swim - on the river, up here.

Additionally, the upper river is home to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge - described on its website as “a haven for migratory birds, fish, wildlife and people...”

The Mississippi River, itself, is “one of the great commercial waterways of the world” (Wikipedia): Barges regularly carry agricultural and lumber products, construction materials, gasoline, petroleum products and other chemicals up and down the river. And, unlike Mark Twain’s Mississippi River, the waterway today is maintained and controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to secure a consistent navigation channel for those barges.

But while the lower river - in every sense an industrial waterway - is relatively free-flowing except for the use of levees and dikes, the upper river is divided by 29 locks and dams (most of which were built in the 1930s) that maintain a nine-foot-deep channel for barge traffic. The pools (sometimes also called “lakes”) created in between the locks and dams are ideal environments for recreational activities.

Mississippi River Pool 9 extends 31.3 miles from Lynxville, WI to Genoa, WI, bordering Iowa and Minnesota, and covers more than 35,000 acres of the Upper Mississippi River. In 2006, a group of concerned and committed people who love the river and its denizens filed Articles of Incorporation for a new organization, Friends of Pool 9 (FOP9). Three years later, FOP9 was selected as the “2009 National Wildlife Refuge System Friends Group of the Year” (from more than 220 Friends groups across the United States).

“Year after year, people come to Pool 9 for its abundant beauty, as well as for its diverse fish and wildlife population,” the organization’s website notes. “At Friends of Pool 9, we’re committed to ensuring that Pool 9 remains a thriving outdoor recreation destination for years to come” (

Towards that end, one of FOP9’s long-standing annual activities is its Pool 9 Mississippi River clean-up. To date, FOP9 volunteers have collected and removed more than 163,000 pounds (81.5 tons) of debris from the river and recorded 9,300 hours of volunteer time to keep Pool 9 clean.

This year, the Pool 9 Mississippi River Clean-Up will be held this Saturday, April 23, from 8 a.m. until noon. The annual event is typically scheduled in conjunction with the annual Earth Day celebration, which is Friday, April 22 this year.

A recent FOP9 press release noted that “Lansing volunteers should gather at the waterfront area below the VFW building next to the river to sign the 2022 Friends of Pool 9 Release of Liability form before participating in the event. FOP9 representatives Alex Galema, Bob Henkel, Bruce ReVoir and Mike Conway will be available to hand out garbage bags, gloves and water, and assign collection areas. Directors will also be available at most launch sites in Pool 9 including Big Slough Landing (Lisa Welsh/Jerry Boardman), Black Hawk Park (Ric Zarwell), Ferryville (Larry Quamme/John Mitchell) and Lynxville Landing (Mark Schneden).”

“It all started following the meetings of 2004-2005 mandated by Congress every 15 years and scheduled by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Upper Mississippi Refuge Manager Don Hultman to discuss changes to the Upper Mississippi,” longtime FOP9 member John Verdon, of Lansing, recalls. “One of the sites was Lansing, where over 300 were in attendance in the high school gym.”

Following Hultman’s presentation, Verdon asked to speak to the group and told him and the audience in attendance that local citizens from the area should be involved in discussion and planning for the Mississippi River and Pool 9. After the meeting, Hultman agreed - and scheduled another small group meeting.

“It was at that second meeting that we decided to form a local citizen-action group,” Verdon says. “Tim Loose was an officer with United States Fish and Wildlife Service (as volunteer coordinator) for the McGregor District (Pools 9-10-11) and helped us write Articles of Incorporation and receive 504(c)3 non-profit status. We would not have formed without his presence and willingness. He became one of my ‘best friends’ over the years and has since died of cancer. The first group gathered at our dining room table at 1903 Blue Heron, and became the temporary Board of Directors, to be eventually elected by the membership to that position.”

FOP9 grew from a handful of interested persons to an organization consisting today of over 800 members in 16 states and four countries. “We clean all 90 square miles of the pool, support citizen involvement in the life of the river, assist refuge projects such as tree plantings, donate to children’s programs about the river, as well as (sponsor) fishing programs for kids, collect data on our eagle population in Pool 9, offer scholarships for students entering a science/environment field, and do everything we can do to make Pool 9 one of the best on the Mississippi River,” Verdon says.

Verdon, a past recipient of the “River Guardian Award” from the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and a founding member of FOP9, credits many people for making FOP9 a reality, and for continuing to make it a vibrant volunteer organization. “Long-term members have been myself, Bob Henkel, Jerry Boardman, Bruce ReVoir, Ric Zarwell, Mark Schneden, Larry Quamme, Lisa Welsh, Darrin Thran, Al Wuennecke, and newer members Alex Galema (current FOP9 president), Kevin Quillin, Blake Schoh, Sue English, Christa Hall and John Mitchell,” he says. “We have had great support from many local businesses, as well as the bigger ones such as Dairyland Power, Alliant Energy and Kerndt Brothers Bank. But I hesitate to start naming businesses or individuals for fear of forgetting someone.”

Most important, Verdon says, is that “everyone know that this is their organization. It has one purpose - to conserve the cultural and natural resources within Pool 9, and to foster the wise public use and enjoyment of the Refuge** and the Upper Mississippi River.”

**Note: Ric Zarwell, Larry Quamme, Sabrina Chandler (refuge manager with Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Service), and Reggie McLeod (editor and publisher, Big River Magazine) are working on the 100-year anniversary book about the formation by Congress of the Upper Mississippi River Fish and Wildlife Refuge, due to be published in 2024.