Museum Provides Education about Mississippi River

Article excerpt

VICKSBURG, Miss. -- The Lower Mississippi River Museum uses hands- on displays to help people understand the lore and power of the waterway that has shaped North American life for centuries.

The Mississippi and its tributaries drain 41 percent of the U.S. and parts of Canada, comprising the world's third-largest watershed. The portion called the Lower Mississippi runs about 1,000 miles, from Cairo, Ill., southward past New Orleans.

The museum, on a hill in downtown Vicksburg, Miss., opened in August and was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Admission is free.

"The only thing we charge people with is that they learn something when they come in," said museum director Sherry Jones.

The museum features displays about the 1927 flood that deluged 27,000 square miles and displaced more than 160,000 families from Illinois south. Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas were hardest hit, and a tent inside the museum shows how people lived after being forced from their homes.

Interactive kiosks offer glimpses into the lives of people who've traveled on or lived by the river for centuries. Maps painted on glass show how the river has changed course over the years, and visitors can slide maps over each other to compare the differences. A 1,500-gallon aquarium is filled with catfish and other river creatures.

A small-scale model shows the confluence of two rivers, and visitors can turn faucets to release water in one river at a time or both rivers at once. It's possible to flood the valley and its miniature buildings.

On an afternoon in mid-December, several employees of the Mississippi Association of Educators toured the museum to explore ideas for school field trips, and the adults played like children.

Some MAE employees rubbed crayons across blank pieces of paper over metal plates with reliefs of a catfish, a rabbit or a snapping turtle. …