Often referred to as the River City, Peoria’s location affords great opportunities to study the Illinois River, a principal tributary of the Mississippi River system. Unfortunately, the river’s quality has degraded over the years, necessitating restoration efforts. For more than 20 years, the Illinois Chapter of The Nature Conservancy has been working to restore this waterway by collaborating with public and private partners.
In efforts to conserve and restore the world’s major river systems, The Nature Conservancy and Caterpillar Foundation formed the Great Rivers Partnership (GRP) in 2005. With aims of studying rivers on a global level, the Mississippi and Illinois rivers serve as “an important foundation and case study for our work,” said GRP Executive Director Michael Reuter.
Five years later, the time has come for the organization to establish a physical center or hub. “Now that our agenda is evolving…with a focus on convening stakeholders, building networks of expertise, developing proof-of-concept projects, and communicating as a unified, expert voice for these rivers, we felt we needed a home, and a university setting seemed most appropriate,” Reuter explained.
Thus, the GRP approached Bradley University President Joanne Glasser in hopes of establishing a partnership. Responding with enthusiasm, Glasser offered up a suite of offices in the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center for the group’s new home. Not just a win for the GRP, Bradley’s students and faculty stand to benefit from the arrangement as well. While the organization has engaged professors from several other universities in the past, there hasn’t yet been much direct engagement with students—something they aim to do at Bradley.
With the intention of creating at least one internship for Bradley students each semester, there may be additional opportunities for students from other local colleges as well. And while it may seem that students studying the sciences will have a leg up on these positions, Reuter noted the need for students from other disciplines as well. This semester, for example, they sought a student in the communications field. “Because great rivers are so complex, we need excellent engineers, economists and communicators, in addition to river ecologists. All of them need to work together to create solutions that are sustainable.”
The collaboration will also enhance the ability to offer seminars when international visitors come to town. Reuter noted that he expects to have further discussions with Bradley leadership, but considers offering a course in large river systems and their management at the university in the future.
Those of us who aren’t Bradley students or faculty also have something to gain from this new partnership. With the hope of building recognition of “the great river flowing through our fair city, and the enormous challenges facing it,” Reuter said the GRP will bring regional and international delegations through Peoria as often as possible. “We would like to think that, over time, this helps Peoria develop a reputation as an important hub for discussions about sustainable river management,” he explained.
As the Great Rivers Partnership continues to settle into its new home at the Innovation Center, the organization’s local staff and board members are working to further the group’s mission by developing strategies, building partnerships and securing additional resources. “We like the spirit of the facility a lot,” said Reuter. “We’re going to need to stay entrepreneurial and innovative to succeed in this ambitious mission.” iBi
» In 2009, Dr. Yao Yin (at right), Director of International Strategies for TNC’s Great Rivers Partnership on loan from the US Geological Survey (USGS), led Chinese scientists on a tour of the USGS’s Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in LaCrosse, Wisc. The scientists, representing Chinese national and provincial science agencies, visited as part of an on-going scientific and technical exchange between the Yangtze River Basin and the Mississippi River Basin, facilitated by the Great Rivers Partnership.