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River Action works for preservation

Dispatch/Argus Photo By John Greenwood

Riverway Project River Art was inspired by River Action. A Petroglyph Spiral at Illiniwek Park in Hampton was the first of several river art projects to be completed. Artist Kunhild Blacklock, pictured, designed and worked on the project that features 40 boulders displayed in a spiral.

DAVENPORT -- When a metropolitan area such as the Quad-Cites has a vast natural resource like the Mississippi River, wouldn't it be a given to preserve it?

River Action president Kathy Wine says, ``Yes and no.''

``Is it healthy as it should be? No,'' said Ms. Wine. ``The pollution is there and it could be healthier.''

Since 1985, the Davenport-based group has worked tirelessly to promote the area's No. 1 attraction. Ms. Wine said Quad-Cities communities want to see development on the river, but often do not want to provide the backing to start it. This is where River Action comes in.

``We're the push,'' she said. ``We put our money where our mouth is and show people it can be done.''

For the past 13 years, River Action has done just that. Development, tourism and awareness thrive on the Mississippi in the form of business, bike trails and annual celebrations. Every day, people are attracted to the riverfront -- a trend that didn't happen overnight.

The group's first test came in the 1980s when workers at John Deere were on strike. Development was low, and so were people's spirits. However, River Action found a way to solve the problem -- light the Centennial Bridge.

Ms. Wine said the idea came from a similar project in Cincinnati. When the bridges over the Ohio River were lighted, it rejuvenated development on the riverfront.

Many Quad-Cities critics, however, had doubts about the $300,000 project.

``Many asked us why we were lighting the bridge and not using the money to feed the homeless,'' she said.

Nevertheless, the bridge was lit, and with it people's spirits. Suddenly new development began on both sides of the river and the Quad-Cities were back in full swing.

``The bridge is the main symbol of the Quad-Cities,'' Ms. Wine said. ``You can't begin to measure community pride.''

Project after project, River Action has proved that it's the little engine that can. The group is responsible for programs such as the Channel Cat, a water taxi that transports people to the various paths along the river. Other programs the group has initiated include the annual Ride the River festival, a 26-mile bike tour of the riverfront; and the Mississippi River Corridor Design Principles, a design guideline booklet for future development on the Mississippi.

River Action also educates as it teaches people the Mississippi is the source of water for the Quad-Cities. To enforce this awareness, signs telling people they are drinking the Mississippi are on many water fountains along bike trails.

Another project has Quad-Cities students and residents armed with spray paint and stencils painting ``Don't dump! This drains into our river'' on Quad-Cities water drains. Ms. Wine said this is to make people think twice before dumping oil and other harmful waste into stormwater drains.

``The refuse people pour in drains doesn't go in the treatment plant, but in the river,'' she said.

River Action's projects have often received financial support from the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation, an organization committed to funding projects along the Mississippi. The bulk of River Action's projects have been matched dollar-for-dollar by the organization. River Action also is seeking membership in the American Heritage Rivers -- a government organization that will provide groups with a liaison to lobby for funding. Ten rivers will be chosen for the project and River Action hopes it will be one.

``We're very nervous,'' Ms. Wine said. ``The decision should be made in a few weeks.''

Another project River Action has been responsible for is the RiverWay, a 65-mile trail that will showcase the history, art and other works of the Mississippi. The project, in its second year, features mile markers, kiosks showcasing the area around them and artwork created by community artists.

Planner Kris Magiera said there is more to come with new gateways and artwork slated for the years to come.

For the future, Ms. Wine and Ms. Magiera look west toward the Nahant Marsh. The group is looking for a plan to develop the 500-acre marsh on the west end of Davenport. Cleanup of the marsh has begun and an innovative plan is under way to provide a balance between development and preserving the environment.

``This is an area people have looked at,'' Ms. Magiera said. ``It's something people want to plan for the future.''

The group is in the process of obtaining funding for the project. Once in place, River Action will also educate the public on how to appreciate the marsh -- a key to its preservation.

``We will try to keep the education going,'' Ms. Magiera said. ``We're committed.''

-- By Kristophere' Owens (February 9, 1998)

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