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Our River Journal


La Crosse Tribune Article

Date: June 28, 2010   Posted By: Mississippi Explorer


Here is a great article written by Chris Hubbuch from the La Crosse Tribune.

Monday profile: River pilot, backwater tour guide enjoys the helm. By Chris Hubbuch.

Eric Dykman has sailed a nuclear submarine and a steamboat. But he's happiest at the helm of his 54-foot pontoon boat. Drawing only a couple of feet of water - even with 60 passengers aboard - the Mississippi Explorer can navigate backwater sloughs where Dykman finds the real action.

Naturalist Jeff Muse helps narrate the journey. As the boat putters off the Mississippi River's main channel, he explains the difference between the working river - where engineering maintains a shipping channel - and the wild river. "The wild river is what we can't control," Muse said. "It's a pretty special place." Dykman adds, "In a way, it's still Mark Twain's river." Mark Twain's river is less predictable. It rises and falls. Giant logs wait just below the surface. Dykman reads the surface for clues. The water ripples over a submerged wing dam. Smooth patches reveal sand bars. He also keeps an eye on the sky. His tours usually come across bald eagles, egrets and great blue herons, four species of turtles, muskrats and the occasional beaver.

Near the far shore, a bald eagle is splashing around in the water.
As several dozen passengers - some tourists and a local church group - pile onto the front deck for a better view, Dykman explains how eagles get their feathers wet and have to swim ashore to dry out.
He steers toward shore, keeping an eye on a submerged log, and kills the engine. Dykman, who is 36 and grew up in Tomah, joined the Navy, serving on a fast-attack submarine out of Pearl Harbor. After four years, including one when he spent 11 months at sea, he returned to Wisconsin for college. While studying marketing at UW-La Crosse, he found a summer job as a deckhand on the Julia Belle Swain. Four years later, he earned his pilot's license and in 2004 took over as captain. That year, he piloted the stern paddle wheeler on the Grand Excursion from the Quad Cities to the Twin Cities.

In 2008, Dykman left to join Jack Libbey, a long-time riverboat pilot and one of the last to earn the same first-class license that Twain held, who was leading backwater eco-tours out of Lansing, Iowa. Dykman became a partner in the business, which operates eight boats, and added tours from La Crosse's Riverside Park. Libbey said he picked Dykman because he understood business, had "the right stuff" and shared Libbey's vision. "It's not just a job," Libbey said. "It's a mission - to share the river with people and show them what it's all about. People don't have a clue what's beyond that levee." The job allows Dykman to use his river knowledge and business acumen (he also has an MBA from Viterbo University). He says he enjoys planning marketing strategies as much as scouting sloughs for new tours.

Dykman doesn't get days off between April and November, but he doesn't complain. "It's not tiresome at all," he said. "All in all, I consider myself pretty lucky." He lives in La Crescent with his wife, Emily, who teaches religious studies at Viterbo University, and their sons, ages 3 and 5.This year, in addition to daily backwater cruises, Dykman has partnered with Muse to offer a floating lecture series that will offer passengers a chance to experience the river in the company of a geologist, biologist and river rat Kenny Salwey.

Muse is an Indiana native who moved to La Crosse last winter after spending years out west, where he was the director of an environmental learning center and a wilderness ranger. He's enamored with the Mississippi River. "I don't know what's more American than the Mississippi," Muse says. He shares Dykman's vision of the backwater cruise as a way to help people become aware of their surroundings. "This is a pretty unique stretch of public land," he says. "Just experience it." "That's the first step," Dykman says. "The more you become aware of (nature) the more you're going to protect it."


Backwater Speaker Series Cruises

Date: June 10, 2010   Posted By: Jeff Muse


La Crosse, Wisconsin –  Mississippi Explorer Cruises announces its new Backwater Speaker Series with experts in scientific research, conservation, and Mississippi lore, including “The Last River Rat” Kenny Salwey.

Departing from Riverside Park in downtown La Crosse, the speaker series will take place on four Saturday morning cruises from June through September. Designed for adults and older students, the series is a collaboration with the Myrick Hixon EcoPark. In addition to guest speakers, each event will be led by the Mississippi Explorer’s Capt. Eric Dykman, a long-time riverboat captain, and professional naturalist Jeff Muse, who instructs the cruise line’s frequent Wildlife Eco-Tours.

“Our cruises focus on the ecology and history of the Mississippi River, especially the national wildlife refuge we call the Upper Miss,” said Dykman. “With the Backwater Speaker Series, we’ll go even deeper, bringing on board special guests who know and love the river in interesting ways. We want to provide residents and visitors alike an up-close look with experts.”

The series kicks off on June 12 with avian researcher Jon “Hawk” Stravers, the Driftless Area coordinator for Audubon’s Mississippi River Initiative. Titled “Birds of the Mississippi Flyway,” the cruise will focus on the biology and behavior of birds of prey, waterfowl, and neotropical songbirds at the peak of spring migration.

On July 10, Dr. Colin Belby of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse will present “Big River Geology: The Restless Mississippi.” Examining the river’s landforms and manmade structures from the boat, Belby will discuss how the ever-changing forces of hydrology and sedimentation influence ecology, commerce, and recreation on the Mississippi.

On August 14, Paula Ogden-Muse, the La Crosse District education ranger for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will teach about diverse predators and prey in the Upper Mississippi River Refuge. Hands-on props will include wildlife skulls, skins, bones, and several live specimens.

The series will conclude on September 11 with “The Last River Rat” Kenny Salwey, the famous storyteller who has spent many decades fishing, hunting, trapping, and exploring the Upper Mississippi. A popular speaker at festivals and other landlocked events, Salwey said, “I’m thrilled to teach people on the river, with water under our feet. The backwaters are full of stories.”

Cruises for the Backwater Speaker Series depart from Riverside Park at 9 am and return by noon. Each event costs $34.99 per person. Built for navigating the shallows, the boat has spacious seating, large sliding windows, an open front deck, a restroom, and a sound system.

Passengers should register early by contacting Mississippi Explorer Cruises at (877) 647-7397 or info@mississippiexplorer.com. For more information about the Backwater Speaker Series or the Mississippi Explorer’s Wildlife Eco-Tours and charter cruises, visit www.mississippiexplorer.com.


Busy Beavers!

Date: May 10, 2010   Posted By: Ric Zarwell


Busy as a Beaver - some really busy Beavers! While researching the rate of melting permafrost in northern Canada using Google Earth and NASA technology, a Canadian-based ecologist recently discovered the world's largest beaver dam.  This beaver-created dam was an astounding 2,788 feet, or more than 8 football fields in length.  Using aerial photography from past years, the scientist concluded that the eager beavers likely started their work on this dam sometime in the 1970's and that several generations of beaver must have actively participated.  Beaver are the largest rodents native to North America and the second largest rodent in the entire world.  Beaver are often observed at fairly close range during boat trips offered by Mississippi Explorer Cruises.  Beaver lodges and trees that show the work of busy beavers are observed on all, or nearly all of these boat trips. To hear an interpretive discussion about how beavers build lodges and dams, as well as other fascinating aspects of their daily lives, register for a trip with Mississippi Explorer Cruises.  Included will be an explanation of how beaver helped open up North America to European settlers, and an opportunity for you and your loved ones to see one or more wild beavers.


Prairie du Chien Riverboat Cruises

Date: February 1, 2010   Posted By: Capt. Eric


Hello everybody and Hello February!

Here we are finding ourselves one month closer to summer (it helps to think positive...right?). At least by the end of the month our days will be 75 minutes longer! At any rate, we are excited to announce an expanded cruise schedule for our Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, location.

In addition to our "Specialty Cruises", which I'll get to in a minute, we've added 2-3 more open-boarding weekend cruises. On Saturdays, beginning May 29th, we'll have a 2-hour cruise departing at 11:00 am and again at 2:00 pm. Sunday will have only one cruise departing at 11:00 am. However, due to the increased cruise demand during Autumn, another 2-hour cruise will be offered beginning on September 26th through October 24th.

Our new "Specialty Cruise" line-up begins on May 7th with our first "Music on the River" cruise followed by a "Mother's Day on the River" on the 9th, and a few "Bald Eagle Watching on the River" cruises after that. Other Specialty Cruises offered this year in Prairie du Chien include: "Effigy Mounds National Monument Cruise to Sny MaGill Mounds" (say that five times fast), "Steamboats on the River", "Marquette & Joilet's Voyage of Discovery", "Pearl Buttons on the Mississippi" w/ historian Michael Douglas, "Life on the Mississippi" w/ Capt. Jack Libbey, and a "Black Hawk War & Treaty of 1805" cruise. If you're looking for more information regarding these cruises, we have a description of each listed under our "Prairie du Chien" web page. Feel free to just give us a call if you have any questions or concerns.

Well that's it for now - stay warm and remember to think positive!


Great Customer Comments

Date: September 5, 2009   Posted By: Capt. Eric


Here are some comments from last week's Sny MaGill Mounds at our Prairie du Chien port:

“Greetings, my family and I were thrilled with our experiences with Mississippi Explorer Cruises on July 5th with the tour to Sny Magill Mounds. I cannot say enough how much fun we had. We were the ones with the young kids who camped out in the front of the boat. It was the highlight of our trip. We will definitely be back and will encourage all our friends and family to go on one of your cruises. Ranger Merle was a treasure. And you, Captain Jack, were a great source of info on the river, its wildlife and the life working on the river. My wife and I are already seriously considering a weekend this fall on the river. Thank you so much for the great trip!”
Jason Murphy and family
Pleasant Hill, Iowa

A big thank you to the Murphy family - glad we could show you a great time!


Mississippi River Adventure Day '09

Date: July 22, 2009   Posted By: Tim Loose


Thank you to all of you for making Monday's inaugural Mississippi River Adventure Day such a tremendous success.

I am already receiving emails from participants expressing the gratitude for all the effort you put in for them and their children. I have heard nothing but positive praise and thanks for everything.

We could not have asked for a better day or for better presenters and volunteers.

Thanks from the bottom of my heart. You are a great group of people to work with.

Tim Loose
Wildlife Refuge Specialist
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
McGregor District