Friends of Pool 9 celebrated 100th Anniversary of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge

What better way to kick-off the 100th Anniversary of the nearby and often misunderstood Refuge than to introduce the public to the reasoning behind the creation of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge in 1924, and then to offer excellent opportunities to experience the Refuge by a number of special boat tours?

The following describes actions that were organized and implemented by the not-for-profit Friends of Pool 9 during spring 2024; and expresses sincere gratitude to those who supported, in some way, the activities which helped accomplish the Friends mission.

Initially, March 8, the Friends of Pool 9 sponsored the program “A Visit From Will Dilg” performed by Steve Marking, a renowned actor and singer. Will Dilg loved everything about the Mississippi River, and was the primary founder of the 261-mile refuge. Marking sang professionally in New York City for more than a decade, and is Resident Entertainer for American Cruise Lines, where he focuses on navigation, nature, history, legends and lore (and his love) of the Mississippi River.

Marking performed his program about Will Dilg and the Refuge to students in fifth through 12th grades in school districts on both sides of the Mississippi River, where he received standing ovations. To top that off, March 9, the same program was offered as a matinee to the general public at TJ Hunter’s Banquet Hall in Lansing, where 232 individuals attended. Later that same evening, river-oriented eco/folk music was provided by local favorite Jon “Hawk” Stravers and his band Big Blue Sky.

After these very informative performances introduced students and the general public to how and why this important Refuge was established, Friends of Pool 9 hosted river excursions aboard the Coast Guard inspected and certified 49 passenger “Maiden Voyage” tour boat, captained by Robert Vavra.

Captain Vavra provided first-hand information about the river he has worked on for decades, while entertaining one and all with his extensive river knowledge and vast story-telling ability.

May 10-19 was an extra busy time on Pool 9 as a total of 841 passengers enjoyed up close and personal experiences with various forms of wildlife, beautiful habitats, and rich history of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge & Fish Refuge. Appropriately, these boat tours were a “first time on the Mississippi River” for a high percentage of passengers, many of whom came from miles away.

The weekend of May 10-12, five boat tours were offered to the general public, and 232 passengers took advantage of the opportunity to visit and learn about the Refuge.

The following week two boat tours were offered each day to students in fifth through 12th grades from the two school districts bordering Pool 9 on the Mississippi River; and a special tour was offered to special needs residents of Mosaic, based in Waukon. A total of 369 students enjoyed and learned from these school-week adventures.

During the final weekend of May 17-19, five boat tours were again offered to the general public, and 240 passengers boarded the “Maiden Voyage” for a final weekend of boat tours. Friends of Pool 9 received extremely positive feedback from all audiences and all passengers.

All activities celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Refuge were made possible by the following partners and supporters: Allamakee County Economic Development; KNEI and KVIK Radio; Big River magazine; TJ Hunters Banquet Hall; Kerndt Bros. Bank, and individual donors to the Friends of Pool 9 fund restricted for this purpose.