— Great River Road Minnesota —
Lake Pepin's Shell Game C
elebrated today as a resort area, Lake Pepin had an earlier fame as a clamming center. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, more than 500 clammers worked the lake from their flat-bottomed johnboats, using giant combs called crowfoot bars to rake the abundant mussel beds. In this way, they gathered mussel shells to sell to the button factories at Lake City.
With thirty-two species in its waters, Lake Pepinwas unusually rich in mussels. Many bore colorful names, such as the pig-toe, pimpleback, pocketbook, washboard, elephant ear, heelsplitter, spectacle-case, sheepnose, and wartyback. Many were prized for their beautiful shells — and now and then a lucky clammer might land a pearl in the bargain.
The Clamming Industry
By 1898, there were nearly 50 button factories in cities along the Mississippi River. But the industry grew so rapidly that it soon began to exhaust the mussel supply. In 1914, Lake Pepin yielded eight million pounds of marketable shell; by 1929, theharvest was less than one-twentieth of that amount.
In recent years, however, there has been aresurgence of commercial clamming in Lake Pepin. Pellets made from mussel shells are used by the Japanese cultured pearl industry to induce oysters to form peals.
Although some species of freshwater mussels remain abundant, many others are in danger of extinction. Mussels are extremely sensitive to changes in watertemperature, water flow, and sedimentation rates. Pollution from cities and eroded soil fromagricultural land have had a major impact on water quality, as have pesticides, fertilizers, sewage effluent, and other contaminants. Even such activities as channel dredging and bridge construction can adversely affect mussels.
"Clammer at Work" and "Buttons and Pearls" illustrated by Bill Cannon
"Freshwater Mussels" illustrated by Don Luce
"Freshwater Mussels" illustration courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
"Freshwater Mussels" 1988, State of Minnesota, Department of Natural Resources
In Search of Summer
More than 100 songbirds species fly northto the Midwest when the weather is warm and food is abundant. In the fall, they followsummer south to the tropics of Mexico, the West Indies, and Central and South America.[drawings of six bird species]
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak · Scarlet Tanager · Northern Oriole · Cerulean Warbler · Wood Thrush · Ovenbird
Photos and text courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
1988, State of Minnesota, Department of Natural Resources