Big Muddy: The Missouri River

Located in the heart of the Midwest, the Missouri River has captivated onlookers for centuries. As one of North America’s longest rivers, it is often referred to as “The Big Muddy” due to its brownish-gray color and sediment-filled waters. But why is it called “Big Muddy”? Let’s explore how it got that name, how dams have changed the river over time, and some fun facts about this iconic river. 

How It Got the Name “Big Muddy” 

The Missouri River was named after a tribe of Native Americans called the Missouris by French explorer Jacques Marquette in 1673. While his original intentions were peaceful, he and his crew soon realized that they needed more provisions. To obtain them, Marquette traded with a band of local Missouris who lived on an island in the middle of what would later become known as the Missouri River. It wasn’t until 1803 when Lewis and Clark explored the river that it acquired its ‘Big Muddy’ nickname. During their expedition, Lewis and Clark noticed that even after weeks without rain or snowmelt, the river stayed murky with a yellowish-brown color. This was because of all the sediment particles from eroded land upstream being carried downstream by rushing water currents – hence its nickname “The Big Muddy”! 

How Dams Have Changed The River 

In 1947, construction began on a series of hydroelectric dams along The Big Muddy in order to control flooding and generate electricity for nearby towns. By 1976 all six dams were completed, greatly changing how much sediment reached downstream areas like St Louis. These dams created huge reservoirs which increased recreational activities like boating and fishing while also providing irrigation water for farmers growing corn and wheat downstream from them.  

However, these dams also created numerous environmental problems such as decreased oxygen levels due to the reduced flow rate of water which can be deadly for fish species living there – leading to their decline in population over time. Furthermore, these manmade structures have caused erosion near shorelines which can lead to harmful algal blooms during summer months resulting in unsafe drinking water supplies for nearby townships!

In the Upper Missouri Breaks the Dams have left a lasting effect on the Cottonwood growth. A healthy Cottonwood growth has multigenerational trees in riparian zones and along the shorelines. However, on the Upper Missouri River due to age the old growth is dying off and new growth is not present. This is due to the dams controlling water and not allowing for spring flooding. In order for new growth to plant and flourish, there needs to be flooding above the highwater mark. If young cottonwoods are naturally planted too low, the ice scarring from winter kills them. On top of that, they are extremely vulnerable to cattle. Along the river you will see fenced young trees in designated areas. The fenced trees are planted with volunteers and have about a 20% success rate. For more information check out Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument.

Fun Missouri River Facts 

The mighty Mississippi–Missouri Rivers form North America’s fourth longest river system at 4,300 miles long! It starts small in Montana but eventually becomes wider than three football fields at some points along its route through Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska Iowa before finally emptying into the Mississippi at St Louis MO after having traveled 2200 miles from its source!  

The Missouri River was an important transportation route for settlers looking to expand westward during 19th century America – with steamboats carrying goods upriver between cities like Omaha NE & St Louis MO until railroads replaced them around the 1860s! It’s also home to many species including bald eagles who nest along bankside trees during winter months!

From its humble beginnings as an unknown tributary to one of North America’s most iconic rivers today – The Big Muddy has been a powerful force connecting people together since 1673 when Jacques Marquette first encountered local Missouri’s living on an island within its waters. Its legacy continues today with hydroelectric power plants supplying energy needs throughout Midwest states while maintaining a balance between wildlife habitats & human development projects which are both essential components necessary for any healthy ecosystem! With so much history behind it & future potential ahead – there is no doubt that Big Muddy will remain a vital part of our lives for years to come!

Looking to explore the majesty of Big Muddy? Check out our collection of guided tours and experience the Missouri River!