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Discovery Wetlands

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

For most of the past hundred years, the wetlands along the Upper Mississippi have been disappearing at an alarming rate, as humans drained them or filled them in for farmland, industry, or even housing. Only in the last decades or so have we realized how important those long stretches of backwater filled with sloughs, bogs, marshes, hummocks and mini lakes are to the health of plants, birds, animals and fish along the river.

Federal and state laws have slowed the decline or even reversed it where possible. Take Dubuque, for example. The good news is that Dubuque has obtained several grants to restore a portion of its riverfront to a wetland. The not-so-good news is that all Dubuque can spare for the project is one acre. Over the next two years, that acre inside Ice Harbor, so long used for a boat building works, will be returned to a wetland with several terraces where water levels can be controlled. The lowest terraces will house water lilies, wild rice and arrowhead, along with silver maple, river birch, dogwood and wild iris. It will include logs for turtles to sun on. On the next, somewhat drier level will grow asters, blazing star and marsh milkweed, and on the highest terrace, above the flood level, spring wildflowers such as columbine, jack-in-the-pulpit and wild geranium, along with hackberry, basswood and oak trees.

Whatever wildlife is attracted to this one-acre wetland will be encouraged to stay, although it seems hardly large enough for permanent residence. Rather, I imagine it will be a favorite of birds using the Mississippi flyway to migrate—a sort of Disney World for ducks. I wonder if the grants include a gift shop.

We’ll have to wait two years to find out. Meanwhile, the project adds one more oxymoron to those I used to puzzle over back in study hall. What would a giant elf look like? Can darkness really be visible, as Milton claimed in Paradise Lost? Can Dubuque really build the world’s first bonsai wetland?

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.