Mississippi Headwaters, Minnesota

Show Summary – February 9, 2009


Sharon observed that she’s mostly talked about fresh water because it is immediately important to each of us but that today, we are going to talk about oceans, the source of our fresh water and just as important. She noted that today’s first guest, Philippe Cousteau, has dedicated his life to the Earth’s ecosystem and to protecting its oceans.
Guest: Art Bernstein, MS

Art Bernstein, MS (Gold Hill, OR), writer and naturalist, “‘The ‘True Head,’ Lake Itasca State Park (Minnesota) and the Mississippi Headwaters.”

Art Bernstein talked about Lake Itasca State Park in Minnesota, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. He said that Lake Itasca was discovered to be the Mississippi headwaters in the 1840′s by Henry Schoolcraft, the famous Indian agent who told Longfellow about Hiawatha. The word “itasca” comes from the middle of the Latin words veritas caput, which means “true head.” Lake Itasca State Park, established in 1891, is the nation’s second oldest state park after Niagara Falls.

Lake Itasca is located in an area containing thousands upon thousands of lakes, including Red Lake and Leech Lake that are so large, you can’t see across them. The lakes were formed by remnants of the retreating continental glacier (called the “Wisconson Glacier”), 10,000 years ago, and continue far into Canada.

The point is that the lakes are all interconnected by streams, forming an immense maze. Thus, tracing the upper Mississippi through the maze to an ultimate source was a daunting task. Lake Itasca has three small creeks flowing into it but there are no lakes upstream (except for one very small pond).

The Mississippi headwaters is considered as the point of outflow from the lake, which is a small stream about four feet across (although some might consider the source of the longest feeder creek into the lake as the true Mississippi headwaters).

From Lake Itasca, the river flows in and out of nine more lakes (Lakes Irving, Bemidji, Wolf, Little Wolf, Cass, Winnibigoshish, Little Winnibigoshish, Ball Club and Black Water). The river barely misses dozens of other lakes that also feed into it. Finally, at the city of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, it becomes an actual river and continues on through Minneapolis, St. Louis and New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico.

Categories: Bodies of Water

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