University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

River Life is proud to work with our partners and funders to do a variety of projects both on- and off-campus. From web sites and mapping to programs and panel discussions, River Life’s work is as varied as the subject matter.

John E. Sawyer Seminar : “Making the Mississippi: Formulating new water narratives for the 21st century and beyond.” (2014-15)

Sawyer Seminar

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

By any measure, the Mississippi River is one of the great rivers of the world. But it is also one of the world’s most heavily managed large rivers and is, arguably, one of the most controversial.

The Sawyer Seminar sees these challenges as problems of incomplete, inadequate, or outdated narratives. Nearly all of the public discourses about the river are animated by urgency imposed by pending legislation, economic decisions, or planning frameworks. The Sawyer Seminar will not address these narratives directly, but will explore writings and images that suggest a new way of seeing the Mississippi, one that may be useful as communities grapple with grand challenges like climate change, changing demographics and transitions in community and regional economies.

Visit the Sawyer Seminar web site.

Irony of Carp by Brian Ickes (2014)

Grass Carp

River Life organized a program panel discussion with Brian Ickes, Research Ecologist, US Geological Survey as a part of a series of events and presentations to celebrate the re-opening of Northrop after extensive renovations.

“The Irony of Carp” draws on the international fisheries experience of US Geological Survey biologist Brian Ickes to explore the threats to Twin Cities rivers posed by invasive Asian Carp. Ickes takes a global perspective on this issue, noting among other ironies that the fish are very scarce now in their native waters in China. Ickes’ presentation will be followed by a panel discussion featuring specialists in fisheries science, community engagement, and river policy. Questions will also be taken from the audience. Panelists discussed ideas of what an invasion of Asian Carp might mean to Twin Cities rivers and how those rivers will be used in the future.

View the Presentation.

River on the Brink: Can Working Together “Save” the Mississippi River? (2011-14)


The Mississippi River, unquestionably one of the great rivers of the world, is on the brink of perhaps irrevocable change. Aquatic invasive species such as Asian carp are moving north; floods in 2011 and drought in 2012 have highlighted the variability and fragility of river flows; communities are redeveloping their riverfronts and in the process are sometimes compromising irreplaceable historic and cultural resources; continued runoff from agricultural fields dumps sediment and nutrients into the river, contributing to a large “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. And the river as a system is not the responsibility of one Federal agency, or a couple of states: a bewildering array of state and federal agencies, local governments and dozens, if not hundreds, of nonprofits make the Mississippi perhaps the most regulated river in the world (Mississippi River Gorge Restoration Feasibility, 2010).

The National Park Service was asked by Congress to “identify natural and cultural resources most in need of protection and preservation and to begin to craft a plan that would address these needs.” Through the structure of a Task Agreement executed through the Great Lakes-Northern Forest CESU, the NPS arranged with the University of Minnesota to conduct the present study. River Life was the University’s agent for the study and prepared the report.

Download the Report

St. Anthony Falls Interpretive Features Atlas (2011-12)


Funded by the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board.

River Life conducted a survey of interpretive features (kiosks, exhibit panels, public art) in the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Zone for the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board. Each feature was photographed, summarized, categorized, and geo-located to assist their evaluation of the current features of interpretation available at the falls and in the immediately surrounding area.  The collection includes points from the Federal Reserve Bank, Mill City Museum, Mill Ruins Park, Milwaukee Road Depot, St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail, Sixth Avenue Stroll, Washington Avenue, and Water Power Park.

Visit River Life’s River Atlas to see the collection, and search for “St Anthony Falls Interpretive Inventory”.  You can also see the collection on a standalone page here.

Contact Us!
Send us a note at to make suggestions for other places we should look, media to track, and stories to tell!
River Life in Video
Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.