New display added to Mississippi River Visitor Center

Published Aug. 5, 2012

Fish now adorn the walls of the Mississippi River Visitor Center located on Rock Island Arsenal in Rock Island, Ill., near Locks and Dam 15.

The fish were built by members of the Benton FFA (also known as Future Farmers of America) Chapter in Benton, Penn., as part of a partnership with the Visitor Center.

The partnership was formed as a way for students to use the skills they were learning in the classroom and apply them to a real-life project. Part of the FFA program is agricultural education where students take classes to help prepare them for successful careers in areas such as global agriculture, food, fiber and natural resources.

The students researched the 15 most common fish species in the Mississippi River for the project. They learned about their anatomy, feeding habits and habitat. They then started making plans for the display and building the fish.

“As they were building, I would quiz them on each species to ensure they had all the fins and features,” said Doug
McCracken, teacher and FFA chapter advisor.

During shop class, students used scrap pieces of lumber to carve the fish sometimes having to combine two pieces together to get the right dimensions. They then sanded the bodies, carved out their fins, mouth and other features particular to each species, before gluing them together.

The finishing touch was paint. They researched the various coloring of each fish and used different techniques to make them look authentic.

The finished product was delivered to the Visitor Center by McCracken and his wife Nancy in June. With the help of the Visi¬tor Center staff the fish were mounted to driftwood and hung on the walls of the Center. A plaque accompanies each species with identification information.

“It was a great project, something the students will be proud of for a long time,” said McCracken, who is the brother of LouAnn McCracken, natural resources specialist, Mississippi River Proj¬ect.

Now, as visitors go up stairs to the main exhibit space they can view the fish and read a short story about where they came from.

McCracken plans on bringing some of the students who worked on the project to the Visitor Center this fall to see the display in person.