Public access to islands along the Mississippi is not easy, not without a boat. Dresser Island is the exception. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has built a causeway across Brickhouse Slough, which allows you an easy hike to the island. I have included Dresser Island in the Riverlands tours at TwoTankTours.com, where you can download a tour of the Riverlands for the small fee of $7.
The Upper Mississippi Conservation Area is 14,906 acres of lands devoted to wildlife scattered in eighty-seven tracts. Managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, the refuge is located on lands, owned by the Corps, both on the floodplain and on the river’s islands. The conservation area is devoted to habitat for ducks, giving them rest on their migration south, and giving duck hunters controlled access to public lands between the Des Moines River and Lock and Dam 26 and Alton, Illinois.
Between 1991 and 2001 the Corps of Engineers conducted a habitat restoration project on Dresser Island and Brickhouse Slough, 940 acres of land and water, including about 500 hundred acres of bottomland forest on the island and 225 acres of backwaters and open wetlands. Brickhouse Slough rounds out the complex at 230 acres. The engineers wanted to stop the build up of sediment in the interior sloughs on the island, which is really a collection of islands and sloughs separated from the Missouri shore by Brickhouse Slough, which was also filling with sediment and losing its value as a backwater for spawning fish.
In 1989 the Corps of Engineers recognized that Dresser Island, collection of islands and sloughs, and Brickhouse Slough were in deep trouble. Every time the river flooded it washed in sediment, which settled in the interior sloughs. Sediment also filled Brickhouse Slough, once a deep flowing chute, so much so that water flowed through only when the river flooded. As it filled with mud, fish lost places to spawn. When the river fell, fish became trapped in the interior sloughs. Low-oxygen conditions followed, summer heat cooked them, winter cold froze them. Mud covered aquatic plants, which did not germinate. Migrating waterfowl lost valuable food. To improve habitat for both fish and fowl, sedimentation had to be controlled.
The engineers decided to encircle the complex with 28,250 feet of levee that crossed Brickhouse Slough to high ground on the Missouri bank to keep floodwater and sediment out of the interior sloughs in all but the biggest floods.
Excavators dredged some of the material for the levee from the island, in order to deepen interior wetlands.
They funneled water through the sloughs in a set of 48-inch drains at its upstream end. They placed a second set in the rock dike across Brickhouse Slough 2,000 feet. Both sets were placed downstream of AmerenUE’s Portage Des Sioux Plant’s cooling discharge pipes in order to stream cooler water into the wetlands during the summer. A set of drains released water to the river at the downstream end of the island.
Herons and egrets pick along the edges of the sloughs for fish. Mallards and Wood Ducks dabble for duckweed. Fur bearers–red fox, coyote, raccoon, muskrat, and mink–thrive in the forest. So do white-tailed deep and gray and fox squirrels. The Long-billed Marsh Wren and the Swamp Sparrow breed on the islands.
Go to TwoTankTours.com and download the tour of the Riverlands.