Paddling the Upper Mississippi and Giant Geese

  • Posted by Dawn Merritt

    By Olivia Dorothy, IWLA Upper Mississippi River Coordinator

    Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting with Izaak Walton League members from the Quad Cities area and the League’s Executive Director, David Hoskins. On Wednesday, we toured the Giant Goose Conservation Education Workshop near Atkinson, Illinois, which is owned by the Illinois Division of the Izaak Walton League and operated by three local chapters: Kewanee, Blackhawk, and Geneseo. Giant Goose has a lot to offer kids and Ike. The site, a reclaimed strip mine, offers RV camping, fishing, and hiking. The trails are beautiful and well maintained, providing hikers with several miles of forest, marshes, and prairie to visit. School groups that visit also get a geology lesson about the history of the site, which is rich in fossils trapped in iron concretions (round, compact masses) that are exposed throughout the conservation area. But what I found most intriguing was the name, Giant Goose. It made me laugh when I first heard it because I pictured some mean, prehistoric goose – the size of a bomber – hissing and trying to bite my leg off. But then I learned about the giant Canada goose’s conservation success story and the role the Izaak Walton League played in saving this species from extinction.

    Giant Canada geese – a subspecies of Canada geese – are usually 12-14 pounds and have a longer neck, broader bill (all the better to bite you with!), and lighter plumage than their goose cousins. This subspecies was thought to be extinct until the1960s, when giant geese were discovered during a banding operation outside Rochester, Minnesota. A few years later, the Illinois Division of the Izaak Walton League adopted a pair of giant Canada geese and restored an abandoned mining site near Atkinson for their care. Today the giant Canada goose population is flourishing throughout North America – the breeding population is around 200,000 – thanks to conservation leaders like these Izaak Walton League volunteers.

    On Thursday, the Davenport Chapter participated in the Quad Cities kickoff for the Summer of Paddling in Moline, Illinois. David Hoskins and I joined up with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Tom Melius, Rock Island Corps of Engineers Commander Colonel Shawn McGinley, Illinois Director of Natural Resources Marc Miller, and River Action Executive Director Kathy Wine to officially start the Summer of Paddling in the Quad Cities area. We were joined by more than 20 local guests who were given a guided tour around Sylvan Slough on the Mississippi River. Afterwards, kids and parents who were not worn out from the sun and paddling were treated to fishing with Davenport Chapter volunteers.

    While the day was hot and few fish were caught, we all know that even the worst day on the river beats the best day in the office. I was glad to get away from the computer and enjoy the outdoors with the League’s local chapters.

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