By Lark Weller
Most of us have imagined with which leaders and remarkable people we’d like to share conversation over dinner. But what about breakfast? Studies show it’s the most important meal of the day! Imagine sharing conversation, learning, and ideas with politicians, researchers studying bald eagles and river otters, people who make your water drinkable and those who clean your used water (who are different people, at least for now…), and those thinking about and establishing policies and practices to help protect the Mississippi—all over fresh coffee and pastries each month. That’s exactly what the Mississippi River Forum offers.
The Mississippi River Forum is a monthly meeting series facilitated by the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (the Twin Cities’ national park!), and made possible through the support of its philanthropic partner, the Mississippi Park Connection, as well as the McKnight Foundation. Each month, we gather to hear a speaker share their work involving the Mississippi River or water resources more broadly, to visit with each other, and to expand the reach of our work and the ideas generated by each month’s speaker and participants.
The Mississippi River Forum is a valuable source of information and networking thanks to its multidisciplinary participants—water resource practitioners and decision makers whose day-to-day work impacts the river—as well as its express focus on enhancing collaboration across sectors. Landscape architects, engineers, environmental organization representatives, urban planners, elected officials, natural resource managers, scientists and researchers, and foundation staff build a unique monthly conversation that reflects the nuances of the river itself. Conversations established at Forum meetings have led to important new partnerships, approaches, and projects.
On February 26, 2016 Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman addressed the Mississippi River Forum. Mayor Coleman had recently returned from the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in Paris as a representative of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI), and joined the Forum to share his experiences. In Paris, Mayor Coleman and other members of MRCTI led discussions with representatives from global river basins in France, Germany, Mexico, Senegal, China, and India about achieving food and water security through commitments to sustainable agriculture, clean water, and improved urban management of water resources.
As a Mississippi River mayor, Coleman understands the importance of a clean and healthy river in communities’ resilience, and the importance of the river to our daily lives and economies. He spoke of the critical role that local governments like the City of Saint Paul play in establishing and modeling policies and practices that can help communities worldwide as they seek to protect natural and human resources from the impacts of climate disruption. Coleman sees efforts like Saint Paul’s sustainable planning and development practices as key to preventing the worst climate change impacts, and as tools to be adopted by other communities around the globe in search of climate mitigation strategies. He—along with over 120 other U.S. mayors and 440 mayors worldwide—has signed the Compact of Mayors, committing these cities over the next three years to establish greenhouse gas emissions targets, develop climate action and resiliency plans, and consistently assess progress toward these goals. (A draft of Saint Paul’s climate resilience plan will be available later this spring.) Though climate change is, by definition, a global issue, solutions and on-the-ground changes take place largely at the local level.
After the mayor’s report back from Paris, Mississippi River Forum participants had over an hour to discuss with him everything from how to protect local waters from salt (chloride) pollution to how the redevelopment of the Ford Plant offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to practice water- and climate- protective strategies at a rare, “mini urban” scale. (The Ford Motor Company closed its Saint Paul production facility in 2011; the City is working with numerous community partners to plan the redevelopment of these 135 acres along the Mississippi River into a mixed-use 21st-century neighborhood.) The conversation was truly an example of local government in action: engaged community members chewing on bagels and complex issues with a mayor working to protect an internationally significant river through local practices.
When is the last time you visited with a mayor over breakfast on a Friday morning? Join the National Park Service for the next Mississippi River Forum and be sure you never miss another opportunity to create meaningful conversations about building a healthier Mississippi River! Meetings are held each month, and alternate between locations in the Twin Cities and Saint Cloud, Minnesota.
For more information about the Mississippi River Forum, including upcoming and past presentations, visit https://www.nps.gov/miss/learn/nature/riverforum.htm, or contact the park’s Water Quality Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Weller, Lark. 2016. “The National Park Service’s Mississippi River Forum: Meals with Great Minds” Open Rivers: Rethinking The Mississippi, no. 2. https://editions.lib.umn.edu/openrivers/article/the-national-park-services-mississippi-river-forum-meals-with-great-minds/.
Download PDF of The National Park Service’s Mississippi River Forum: Meals with Great Minds by Lark Weller.