National River Day is February 2. While it may be tempting to think of the Mississippi River itself when it comes to conservation, the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is urging the public to think about conservation on land too. 

“Being good stewards of the river starts away from the water on land,” said Codi Sharkey, Conservation Programs Manager at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. “Picking up trash, planting native plants and refraining from spraying herbicides are all things that help the river immensely.” 

This big-picture view of conservation is something that Sharkey and the rest of the team at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is working to instill in the broader community including youth. Things such as increasing biodiversity on land can help with erosion and water quality. 

The Teens Take C.A.A.R.E (Conservation Action through Advocacy, Research and Engagement) program is now in its third year. The group of about 12 local teenagers, who meet bi-weekly, are now narrowing down their options for their annual project after learning about conservation efforts in the community. Previous projects include making a sustainability toolkit, which the Hotel Julien adopted, and increasing biodiversity by planting more than 300 native prairie species in two plots in downtown Dubuque. 

“Little things you do can affect the river habitat, and then that not only affects us here but also those living downstream. We’re part of a network, and that starts with how we can take care of the water,” said Sharkey.

The 1 Mississippi Network is a program that the museum participates in to unite people along the Mississippi to restore and protect the river’s health. It’s another way the museum is helping the public understand how they can make a difference. 

“We’re bombarded with messaging about pollution and invasive species and more negative news,” said Sharkey. “I’m trying to show that there is hope. We can all make a difference even on a small scale that makes a big impact. I want to diminish apathy. I’m super passionate about the environment, nature and the outdoors. When you look around, you see how we’re all interconnected.” 

As the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium works with locals to enhance conservation of both the land and river, it is also working to Preserve the Wonder for future generations. Those who are interested in donating can visit