In the past, the Mississippi River near Muscatine teamed with mussels. An important part of the ecosystem, they filtered water, keeping it clean and fresh as it flowed down to the Gulf of Mexico. From the 1890s onward, entrepreneurs in Muscatine found they could use mussel shells to create pearl buttons, a product that put Muscatine on the map for decades. In the rush to make more pearl buttons, clam fishers overfished the river, killing the majority of native clams. Though the federal government tried to ameliorate the situation by building a biological station (now the Fairport Fish Hatchery) they had little success, and the pearl button industry ended its operations.
As the director of the National Pearl Button Museum @ History and Industry Center (NPB), Terry Eagle found the importance of mussels to Muscatine fascinating. He wondered if renewed efforts to bring back mussels could improve water quality down the length of the Mississippi and put Muscatine on the map again, this time as a leader in conservation. With these thoughts in mind, he got in touch with the Fairport Fish Hatchery and discovered that the oldest building there, originally built to breed mussels, could get torn down soon. Wanting to protect it, Eagle began looking into ways the Fairport Fish Hatchery could become a biological station again and return to its original purpose.
Determined to learn more, Eagle consulted with several other local wildlife and water quality experts and discovered them hard at work promoting clean water in various ways. These people decided to join up and create the organization, Mussels of Muscatine.
According to Eagle, Mussels of Muscatine, “is a group of people who we brought together who know about clean water and propagating mussels.” Comprised of Eagle, Andy Fowler, Scott Gritters, and Melanie Harkness of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Hannah Howard of the Nature Conservancy, and Jon Koch of the City of Muscatine, Mussels of Muscatine plans to pool their resources to make Muscatine a leader in water quality through conservation efforts and reintroducing mussels to the Mississippi River. In Eagle’s words, Mussels of Muscatine wants to excel in national river cleanup efforts and to, “let Muscatine be the shining pearl in this effort.”
To share their efforts with the pubic, Mussels of Muscatine will hold a presentation at the NPB on Thursday, November 14th. A free event, Eagle stressed that, “anybody who’s interested in nature, anybody who’s interested in the future of clean air and water, and anybody who’s interested in the mussels of Muscatine,” may attend. Over the course of the evening, each member of Mussels of Muscatine will speak and share what they do to help improve the Mississippi River’s health.
Though Mussels of Muscatine has a lot of work ahead of them, they look forward to making bold moves to improve water quality and to getting the community behind their efforts. “Muscatine has the muscles to become a leader in clean water initiatives,” asserted Eagle. “If this comes together, what a pearl this could be.”