The Mississippi River begins as a trickle flowing out of Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota. From there the river flows 2,348 miles until it pours into the Gulf of Mexico below New Orleans. The Mississippi River drains 33 states and its watershed covers one-half of the nation. It fosters cities and commerce, transports people and goods, provides habitat for fish plants and wildlife, and enriches human life with natural and recreational opportunities.

North America's longest river percolates out of a mixed hardwood and conifer forest as it begins its 3,000 mile descent to the Gulf of Mexico. It is a humble stream fed by underground springs, the moist climate and countless lakes, marshes, bogs. The Mississippi River at its source bears little resemblance to the mighty river it becomes, but it is nonetheless the defining feature of the landscape of northern Minnesota.

The Mississippi River is protected from its headwaters at Lake Itasca in Clearwater County, to the southern boundary of Morrison County, near Little Falls. That means 466 miles of protection, making it the longest stretch of protected river in the United States. Visitors to the region are drawn by its unique natural resources: the pristine water quality, the mix of southern and northern vegetation of the forest and the dazzling variety of wildlife which inhabit the river and its shores.

Protection of the Mississippi River has been adopted by local government in this region. The basic tool for protection is an ordinance that limits land use in the river corridor. This ordinance is administered by the Mississippi Headwaters Board (MHB), a joint powers board of Clearwater, Hubbard, Beltrami, Cass, Itasca, Aitkin, Crow Wing and Morrison counties. Controlling development controls human disturbances of the river bank and its watershed that can increase erosion, disturb animal habitat and consequently, impair water quality. It is an effective tool. However, it is a limited tool. Maintaining the health of the river and its ecosystem is the ultimate goal of the MHB's river protection program.

Top Ten Reasons Why the Mississippi River Headwaters is a Special Place Apologies to David Letterman

10 The Mississippi Headwaters is protected by the people who live there. Residents of Clearwater, Hubbard, Beltrami, Cass, Itasca, Aitkin, Crow Wing and Morrison counties show their care for the river by: Maintaining a setback of new construction from the river, Educating themselves about how land uses connect to water quality, especially in specific activities such as timber harvest and Educating themselves about cultural values of the Mississippi Headwaters.

9 Mississippi Headwaters supports a diverse and productive fishery, with excellent smallmouth bass and muskie fishing.

8The Mississippi Headwaters provides for a variety of human economic uses. It powers generation of electricity for municipal and industrial uses at Bemidji, Cohasset, Grand Rapids, Brainerd, Little Falls and Royalton; it discharges wastes from Bemidji, Cass Lake, Deer River, Grand Rapids, LaPrairie, Palisade, Aitkin, Brainerd, Baxter and Little Falls.

7The Mississippi Headwaters is the source of drinking water for one-quarter of the state's residents.

6The Mississippi Headwaters is witness to 10,000 years of human history, from prehistoric nomadic hunters who traveled great distances annually to European immigrants who logged the region and settled it.

5The Mississippi Headwaters supported the lives of Ojibwe people, who harvested wildlife, trapped fur bearers, netted fish, gathered maple syrup and hunted large game for hundreds of years.

4The Mississippi Headwaters supports more than 350 species of animals, mammals and birds, including nearly all of the endangered, rare and threatened species listed in Minnesota.

3A dozen vegetative communities are found on the lands of the Mississippi Headwaters, representing nearly every type found in Minnesota.

2The Mississippi Headwaters is a living record of climate changes that have further shaped the landscape or our region.

1The Mississippi Headwaters is a living record of the glacial systems that created the landscape of Minnesota.

0.5Mississippi" is way harder to spell than "Amazon" or "Nile"