The western Tennessee portion of the Mississippi River offers a myriad of educational opportunities to all types of “natural students.” Whether they are elementary school children exploring the shore communities along the muddy riverbanks or academic researchers developing and testing new hypotheses in large-river ecology, the Mississippi River is the ultimate outdoor classroom and laboratory.
Each spring and fall populations of waterfowl, shorebirds, and neotropical migrants travel the Mississippi Flyway and educate casual birders and formal Ornithology classes with lessons on the bird identification and natural history. For students of Botany and Plant Ecology, the bottomland hardwood forest communities of the floodplains contain the greatest diversity of oak tree species known. The river itself is home and habitat to hundreds of fish species, some like the Mississippi spoonbill, are found nowhere else. This fish diversity makes the Mississippi River and western Tennessee a trip destination for Ichthyology classes throughout North America.
Many Tennessee venues along the Mississippi, such as the T.O. Fuller and Meeman-Shelby State Parks are ready to accommodate interpretive and educational programs of elementary and high school classes. Institutions such as The University of Memphis incorporate the river as a primary focal point of its teaching and research.
The Mississippi River has been the single-most important feature in shaping the natural conditions of western Tennessee, and, the variety of ecosystems associated with the river contains the primary natural resources of the region. Educational programs and opportunities that focus on the Mississippi not only awaken students to the national treasure that flows through their “back yard,” they teach our students the importance of natural resource stewardship and provide enlightened citizens for the future.