Press Release

New Film Captures Historic Campaign and Unlikely Victory to Save the Upper Mississippi 100 Years Ago


La Crosse performer Steven Marking Delivers Compelling Portrayal of the Conservation Pioneer

LA CROSSE, WISC. April 23, 2024 ---- The modern conservation movement was kick-started in 1924 when Will Dilg, the first president of the Izaak Walton League, created a campaign to save fish and wildlife habitat along nearly 300 miles of the Upper Mississippi River. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of what would become the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, performer Steven Marking created a film, “A Visit from Will Dilg."

Marking narrates the story of the Refuge, drawing on Dilg’s own words. The film draws on historic imagery as well as current photography that shows off the remarkable native flora, fauna and landscape in the Refuge, which had been threatened by a plan to drain the surrounding wetlands for agricultural development in 1924.

The film explores the Upper Mississippi’s storied past and current challenges as well as the enduring ecological importance of the wildlife refuge. In 1923-24, an extraordinary national campaign to save the region leveraged 100,000 members of the Izaak Walton League as well as the two million members of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Together, they convinced Congress and the White House in a long-shot but successful race to enact a law to save the backwaters now protected in the Refuge. Dilg died shortly after the victory.

Steven Marking holds a master’s degree in Vocal Performance from the Peabody Conservatory of Music and a bachelor’s degree from Viterbo University in his hometown, La Crosse, Wisconsin. He brings more than three decades of professional production and performance experience to his performances.

Marking grew up along the Mississippi and the Refuge, on Pool #7. He created a multi-media show called “Our Mighty Mississippi” that includes a portion about Refuge, which led to his joining the Izaak Walton League and seeking more information about the Will Dilg story. He describes himself as a Riverlorian, defined as "one who studies rivers and shares all aspects of navigation, nature, history, legends and lore with anyone who will listen." 

Availability, Pricing

“A Visit From Will Dilg” is available for rental or purchase on A 30-day rental is $6. The movie can be purchased for $11. A free sign up for Vimeo is required. The movie is produced in Ultra High Definition. 

Email about licensing for large groups and viewing options. Private use streaming cost: $6. Physical copies (DVDs and USB drives) will be available May 1, 2024.

Press Contact:

Michael Reinemer, Izaak Walton League of America,, 301-548-0150, ext 220.

About the Izaak Walton League of America

The Izaak Walton League was created in Chicago, January 1922, and many of its early chapters and members came from the Midwest. Describing the League’s work to save the Upper Mississippi wetlands, historian Stephen Fox wrote, “It was a phenomenon—the first conservation group with a mass membership…It brought new pressures on Congress through its sheer size and because it spoke for a different area of the country.”

In his book, The Great River, historian Phillip Scarpino called the League’s grassroots effort to save the Upper Mississippi in the 1920s, “the first modern environmental campaign.”

Today, this refuge protects 240,000 acres of the Mississippi floodplain and wetlands along 261 miles of the river, from Wabasha, Minnesota, to Rock Island, Illinois.

The refuge continues to provide essential habitat for fish and wildlife species in the region including 57 mammals, 260 fish, 37 freshwater mussels and 45 amphibians and reptiles. The Upper Mississippi is a globally important flyway for more than 300 bird species and 40 percent of all North American waterfowl.

The bluffs, vistas and trails found in the refuge host about 3.7 million visits each year for hiking, boating, wildlife observations, fishing, hunting and other recreation, which support $125 million in outdoor recreation and tourism.

The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is an enduring example of how we can and must take action to save the nation’s waterways and ensure a future with clean water. We will need bold steps and new generations of stewardship to address a range of problems—pollution, sedimentation and invasive species to name a few. 

Events, Exhibits

National Mississippi River Museum, Dubuque, Iowa. April 20, 2024 - April 21, 2025

“In Common Interest: A Story of the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge.” The display will explore the origin story of the Refuge through the unique partnerships of individuals, grassroots activism and federal policies that came together in a common interest of conserving the wetlands along the river. A passion project of conservation, together they created a refuge for both wildlife and people, which continues today. The exhibit is co-hosted by both the USFWS and the Izaak Walton League of America.

Refuge Centennial Film Festival and Celebration, June 7-8, 2024, Winona, Minnesota

Hosted by Izaak Walton League of America, Winona Chapter

Partner Groups

The Izaak Walton League is celebrating the centennial of the refuge with a number of partners:

  • Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge staff
  • Friends of Refuge Headwaters
  • Friends of Trempealeau Refuge
  • Friends of the Refuge Mississippi River Pools 7 & 8
  • Friends of Pool 9
  • Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge
  • Big River Magazine
  • Lake Onalaska Protection and Rehabilitation District
  • Izaak Walton League of America Minnesota Division
  • Izaak Walton League Wapasha Chapter, Wapasha, Minn.

Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League fights for clean air and water, healthy fish and wildlife habitat and conservation of our natural resources for future generations. The League plays a unique role in supporting community-based science and local conservation and has a long legacy of shaping sound national policy. See

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