Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center
7071 Riverview Road
Thomson, Illinois 61285
Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge
Within the boundaries of Carroll County lies one of America’s greatest treasures, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The Refuge encompasses four states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. Carroll County is very fortunate to have the Illinois District Office within our boundaries. Just five minutes south of Savanna on Riverview Road west of Highway 84, the Illinois District Office is located within Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center.
In 2000, Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center opened its doors to promote environmental education and conservation of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Visitors travel from all over the world to view the Mississippi River and its wildlife. This provides us with many great opportunities to share our story and to encourage support for the Refuge System.
Conveniently located within the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, the facility is packed with interesting hands-on exhibits and provides a dramatic view of the world’s most majestic and celebrated river.
The Center sits on thirty-five acres of sand prairie that is home to the ornate box turtle, prickly pear cactus, and a diversity of other plants and animals. Visitors can walk or bike the Grand Illinois Trail, which traverses through the prairie and along Spring Lake. Photographers find many opportunities to get that special picture of a bald eagle, sandhill crane, trumpeter swan, or the prickly pear cactus. No matter what your interest, there’s something for you to see and do.
The Center is dedicated to the memory of Gary and David Ingersoll, young residents of Savanna who were stricken with muscular dystrophy. Although confined to wheelchairs most of their young lives, the two overcame day-to-day challenges and attended college, where they demonstrated their mutual interest in natural resource conservation. Tragically, both young men died of the disease before the age of twenty-two. The center was named in their honor. Toaday, it continues to promote their ideals of environmental education and conservation of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
Hours are 8:00 A.M. – 4:00 P.M. Monday through Friday. The Center is closed on all federal holidays. Starting in mid May through September, the Center is open on Saturdays from 9:00 A.M. – 4:00 P.M.
The Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge “Friend’s Group” operates a bookstore within Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center. It’s filled with an excellent selection of children’s books, field guides, and unique gifts. If you know one of those “hard to buy for” nature enthusiasts, you’ll find that perfect gift here. All proceeds support various refuge programs.
The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Story
The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, established for fish, wildlife, plants, and as a breeding place for migratory birds, owes its existence to the avid fisherman, founder and leader of the Izaak Walton League, Will Dilg. By 1922, Dilg had spent nearly two decades fishing and enjoying the Upper Mississippi River. In the summer of 1923, he learned of a plan to drain a large portion of the river backwaters and came up with an ambitious solution to the drainage scheme: turn the entire stretch of river into a federal refuge.
Remarkably, one year later, due to Dilg’s determination, Congress passed the Upper Mississippi River Wild Life and Fish Refuge Act on June 7, 1924. The act authorized the acquisition of land for a refuge between Rock Island, Illinois and Wabasha, Minnesota. The Refuge name was changed administratively to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in 1983. The 261 mile refuge is the longest contiguous river refuge in the continental U.S. This refuge begins at the confluence of the Chippewa River near Wabasha, Minnesota, and ends near Princeton, Iowa. The refuge lies within four states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois.
The river was free-flowing until a series of locks and dams were constructed in the 1930’s by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Over half of the lands managed by the refuge are owned by the Corps. Today, nearly 240,000 acres of wooded islands, marshes, and backwaters comprise the Upper Mississippi Refuge. The refuge provides migratory habitat for a large percentage of the migratory birds in the Mississippi Flyway. Tundra swans and canvasback ducks use the refuge as a resting and feeding area in the spring and fall. From the beginning, the refuge has been a place for visitors to renew themselves. A quiet trip to the backwaters, camping on an island, fishing a favorite spot, and waterfowl hunting are traditional uses that have continued for over eighty years.
The National Wildlife Refuge System
One hundred and eleven years ago, Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge on Florida’s Pelican Island, ensuring the island’s birds would survive plume hunters and other profiteers. He went on to establish more than fifty wildlife refuges in a network of protected lands and waters that has become a landmark international conservation model.
The National Wildlife Refuge System presently encompasses 562 refuge units, 38 wetland management districts, and more than 150 million protected acres. It stretches from Alaska to the Caribbean and west from Maine to islands in the remote Pacific Ocean.
This network is dedicated to the protection of vital wildlife habitat and efforts to restore at-risk species. Examples include the return of the bald eagle and the brown pelican, both of which are no longer on the Endangered Species List, as well as our work with other iconic wildlife such as caribou, bison, elk and puffins. Refuges offer the American public a chance to see all these animals, not behind bars in a zoo, but roaming free in their natural environment.
Refuges help our communities by cleaning the air and the water we depend on for human health. By conserving and restoring these natural landscapes, they also help to prevent or minimize disasters such as flooding, drought and wildfires.
Forty-seven million people visit refuges each year. Some come to see and experience undeveloped landscapes or to learn about nature and conservation. Others come to take part in the many available outdoor recreational opportunities.
In the process, refuges stimulate local economies, supporting thousands of private sector jobs, and generate billions of dollars in commercial activity. Our recent Banking on Nature report reveals refuges pump $2.4 billion into the economy and support more than 35,000 jobs.
Our national wildlife refuges are home to more than 700 types of birds, 220 varieties of mammals, 250 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, 1,000 species of fish, countless invertebrates, and plants. They provide havens for 280 endangered species ranging from the Florida panther to the polar bear.