Who are the Friends of the Refuge Headwaters?

The Friends of the Refuge Headwaters is a volunteer organization made up of people who support the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. We are based in Winona but draw members from the surrounding area as well, both in Minnesota and Wisconsin. We host activities throughout the year that bring people out onto the Refuge (paddling, fishing, bird-watching), assist Refuge staff with biological surveys, and educate and advocate on behalf of the Refuge.

What is the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge?

The Upper Miss Refuge is a world-class bird, fish, and wildlife area that also offers fantastic recreation opportunities. The most-visited refuge in the U.S. and the largest in the lower 48 states, it begins at the confluence of the Chippewa River near Wabasha, Minnesota and ends 260 miles later near Rock Island, Illinois, touching four states along its boundary. Our Friends group supports the Winona District of the Refuge, a 40-mile portion from Wabasha, MN to Trempealeau, WI.

What do the Friends do?

We do a lot! We carry out a wide variety of activities, most on the Refuge or in the vicinity of Winona and nearly all in concert with the staff of the Refuge, who are employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  These events bring young people, seniors, people with disabilities, families, people of diverse nationality, and others into the outdoors and enjoying the refuge. In addition, the Friends serve as advocates for the Refuge and national wildlife refuge system at the local, state, and federal level.

Activities that we carry out every year include:

  • A Swan Watch charter bus tour that leaves Winona and takes the group to one or more spots along the river where they can view tens of thousands of migrating tundra swans;
  • Fishing events both winter and summer for kids, disabled adults, and others (equipment provided);
  • Outings on the river by both canoe and kayak (equipment provided);
  • Helping Refuge staff remove invasive plant species, remove trash from the river, and carry out surveys of eagle nests, heron nests, and waterfowl hunters.
  • Swan Watch

In addition to the above, our Friends group installs, monitors, and maintains fishing line recycling containers at 35 boat landings and popular fishing sites over a 30-mile stretch of the river. We advocate for the refuge and national wildlife refuge system at the local, state, and federal level. We bring in expert speakers on wildlife and conservation topics. And we compete for grants to support our activities.

Since 2013 we have been awarded nearly $30,000 in grants to carry out a variety of projects, including planting to restore Oak Savannah habitat on a river island near Wabasha, leading field trips to the Refuge for elementary and middle-school students, placing an aquarium and terrarium with local species in an elementary school, and hosting a workshop at the Refuge for other Friends groups from four states.

How to become a member of the Friends

By joining the Friends of the Refuge Headwaters, you'll receive announcements about our events and activities, some of which are offered exclusively to dues-paying members. And our dues are minimal: $10 annually for students and seniors, $20 for individuals, and $35 for families. Click here for our MEMBERSHIP FORM. If you would like to make a donation in any amount, please visit the SUPPORT page. Questions? Email [email protected].