Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

Additions to Museum Must Be of Great Value

There Are Many Plans for America's River Phase II, But It Might Be Too Much to Create a Rainforest

Jerry Enzler

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

December 11, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

We agree with the Telegraph Herald in its editorial about America's River Phase II ("Iowa rainforest: Boon or boondoggle," Dec. 4). As the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium considers expansion at the Port of Dubuque, we want to ensure that additions are valuable to local residents and visitors, that they play an important role in our community's development, and that they increase the nation's understanding of our history and environment.

For America's River Phase II, we plan to create a new museum that tells the stories of America's rivers and their watersheds. We are looking to build a large screen theater, not an IMAX, but something equally effective.

We are eager to fulfill the dream of a Children's Museum and want to provide eco-tours to the Mines of Spain.

We are working to create a National River Research and Conservation Center in association with the Smithsonian. This fits well with the species conservation we already are doing with the Wyoming toad, the Higgens Eye mussel and mudpuppies.

We now lead a network of 58 museums along the National Great River Road, including Lake Itasca State Park, the Arch in St. Louis and several museums in New Orleans.

Working with curators and national scholars, we are planning a national traveling exhibit, Rivers to the Sea, which addresses important information about our river(s), including hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Through the support of the McKnight Foundation, we are also now leading a consortium of 33 river-focused organizations to coordinate a national awareness campaign for the entire Mississippi River. This will lead to greater environmental literacy and an increase in stewardship of our nation's rivers.

In the 28 months since we opened, we have had more than 700,000 visitors. This year alone we have had visitors from 60 foreign countries and all 50 states. We have more than 4,000 members and, through the National Rivers Hall of Fame, they reside in 36 states.

In other words, we are one of the leading educational and environmental museums in the country. We are eager to launch new programs, exhibits, and traveling programs that truly make a difference in our nation's rivers.

There is much to learn from an ecosystem such as the Amazon, especially as it compares to our own Mississippi. It might be appropriate to include the Amazon River and the diverse species that are found in the rainforest environment.

While it is important to understand this important ecosystem, it might be too much to create an actual rainforest in Dubuque.

In our one meeting in Dubuque with officials from the Iowa Environmental Project (which is the group behind the rainforest), we stressed that any discussion of collaboration must focus on environmental and educational mission, efficiency and effectiveness of programming, and sustainability.

For portions of the Iowa Environmental Project to be considered for America's River Phase II, those elements must be a positive influence on the expansion that we are already contemplating, be well grounded in environmental education and tell the story of people's relationship to rivers over time.

More than anything, it must be worthy of national recognition and acclaim.

Any consideration of using funds and ideas from the Iowa Environmental Project in an America's River Phase II can only proceed after an examination of mission, environmental message, educational value, efficiency, organizational structure, appropriateness of exhibits and exhibit topics and public acceptance.

The Iowa Environmental Project received $50 million for environmental education. If such resources can truly be used to educate and enhance our understanding of our past and future relationship to rivers, then it is worthy of consideration. If that includes learning about the Amazon in comparison to the Mississippi, that might be appropriate. But only if it meets the criteria described above and blends well with our already compelling story of the Mississippi River.

Enzler is executive director of the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. His e-mail address is