News / USA

Sister Rivers Build Cultural Bridge Between US, China

Two great waterways, a world apart, face similar conservation issues

The River Spirit Exchange took students down the Kickapoo River, a tributary of the Mississippi, past towering sandstone outcroppings
The River Spirit Exchange took students down the Kickapoo River, a tributary of the Mississippi, past towering sandstone outcroppings

Multimedia

Audio

The Mississippi is the major river system in the United States. The Yangtze is China's longest river.

Although a world apart, the two waterways share conservation concerns that provide a cultural bridge between students in the United States and China, as well as from around the world.

Cross-cultural experience

The Mississippi flows almost 3,800 kilometers from a small lake in Minnesota, gathering the waters of 250 other rivers and streams before reaching the Gulf of Mexico.

In mid-May, as spring flowers began to open, about 41 students from a dozen colleges, mostly in the Midwest, explored a section of the river in Wisconsin and Iowa, to learn about the environment, and each other.

Students paddle along the Kickapoo River, where a 20-year preservation venture stopped encroachment by developers.
Students paddle along the Kickapoo River, where a 20-year preservation venture stopped encroachment by developers.

The students, from the U.S., China and around the world, came to join the River Spirit Exchange program.

The cross-cultural educational experience - set up by the University of Wisconsin, Madison-based Environment and Public Health Network for Chinese Students - focuses on the Mississippi and China's longest river, the Yangtze.

The International Crane Foundation is one of the groups supporting this sister-river program. Jeb Barzen, the foundation's chief wildlife biologist, gave the students a tour of the preserve.

She told them that, to successfully breed and produce healthy young, the giant birds need to stop in the middle of their long migration to rest, eat, socialize, mate, and build their strength for their long flight north. The Mississippi and its tributaries provide that sanctuary.

Barzen explained while these students learn about the problems challenging the Mississippi and Yangtze, they will also learn about the challenges - and importance - of bridging each other's culture.

"Americans in the Midwest, they're very funny," he told them. "They do things very differently from what you might expect in China. Or if Americans interact with you in China, they might think, 'Whoa, they do things very differently in China.' But what's important is that we are more similar to each other than we are different."

The three-day program included conservation activities like pulling invasive weeds from banks of the Platte River.
The three-day program included conservation activities like pulling invasive weeds from banks of the Platte River.

A larger lesson

This three day get-together featured story-telling, hiking, camping and canoeing, all part of a larger lesson about conservation projects that can be used on both the Yangtze and Mississippi.  

After the group met at the Crane Foundation preserve, they headed south to canoe a stretch of the Kickapoo River that winds its way through southwestern Wisconsin before joining the Mississippi. They paddled along a stretch of the Kickapoo River, where a 20-year preservation venture stopped encroachment by developers and protected the natural setting of the waterway.

The effort was led by Mark Cupp, director of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board.

He told the group he was proud of its success. "I believe because of the Riverway Project that we can be assured that our grandchildren's grandchildren will be able to set a canoe in the singing waters of the Wisconsin River and be able to experience the same beauty that we can see today and that those Native Americans saw from those many generations before."

But accomplishing that was a contentious process.

Cupp told the students setting rules for loggers, farmers, landowners and developers caused anger and even a few threats of violence between the two sides.

"In fact, near the end of the planning process, folks from Madison were called 'urban maggots' and they responded by calling the locals 'club wielding zealots'," said Cupp.

Barzen, of The Crane Foundation, recounted similar difficulties in China while trying to preserve habitat along the Yangtze River. China's river is threatened by dams and other water diversion projects, as well as fish farming, deforestation, and the cultivation of surrounding land for farming and grazing.

"Every year we would talk with the farmers," he recalled, "and they would say 'What can I do? I have no solution. I have to feed my family.' We would say 'But you know this technique is not good for you because you get a little bit of food now but it makes you poor next year or two years. And the farmer would say 'Yes, I know, but my children need to eat next month, not next year.'"

The group spent the nights camped out by the river.
The group spent the nights camped out by the river.

A cooperative approach

The message Barzen wants students to hear is, look for solutions from the other side. Don't treat them as adversaries.

"So these ideas of solutions including people are important for conservation. They're important for us as people to survive as well," he said. "This wetland is just a very small example of exactly the same thing that you're talking about on a very big scale, for the Yangtze, for the Mississippi, for the other river systems that exist in the world."

The president of the Environment and Public Health Network for Chinese Students, Xiaojun Lu, said the Mississippi and Yangtze Rivers are uniting these students from opposite ends of the earth.

"They got to know each other during the exchange," he said. He hopes that, by working together, they will find solutions to preserving these waterways."So I think that certainly helped people to change their thinking and so they can look beyond not just for now but for the future."

The students on the River Spirit Exchange ended their first night with singing and stories around the campfire. Organizers say the success and spirit of this first gathering of students will lead to other trips, including one down the Yangtze.

(Correspondent Gil Halsted contributed to this report.)

You May Like

Video Snowstorm Sweeps Northeastern US

'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says; he had warned storm could be one of worst in city history More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle With Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid