Where is the Source of the Mississippi River?

Lake Itasca, a glacial lake located in Itasca State Park in Minnesota.

Mississippi River is the second largest drainage system in North America, located almost entirely in the US with the drainage basin reaching as far as Canada. Despite being the third largest river system in the world, the exact source of the Mississippi is not clear. The source of Mississippi River is Lake Itasca. Lake Itasca is a glacial lake which approximately measures 4.7 km2. Lake Itasca is situated in the southeastern region of the Clearwater County in north-central Minnesota. It is located in Itasca State Park. The lake’s depth usually varies between 6 and 11 meters. It is at an elevation of 450 meters above the sea level.

History and Controversies

Lake Itasca is the primary source of the Mississippi River. The river flows 3,770 km into the Gulf of Mexico. There have been a few controversies on what is the exact source of the Mississippi. In fact, there have been a number of expeditors who could not agree on the exact source of the rivers. The sources of the controversies are as a result of the few tributaries that flow all year round into Lake Itasca. The exact source of the river has also been controversial because of the evolved definition of a source of a river.

In 1832, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft identified Lake Itasca as the source of Mississippi River. A previous expedition recognized Cass Lake, which is located downstream from Lake Itasca as the source of the Mississippi River. In fact, before 1820, the Cass Lake was known to be the source of the Mississippi. Schoolcraft realized that this was an error and took it upon himself to determine the correct source of the river. Schoolcraft is honored for being the first person to discover the exact source of the Mississippi. A number of geologists recognize Lake Julia to be the exact source of the lake. A land surveyor, Jacob V. Brower after a five-month expedition, concluded that the small tributaries and the lakes could not be recognized as the sources of the Mississippi. He argues that the same criteria could have been used to determine the sources of the Nile and the Amazon, but could not be used to determine the source of the Mississippi River. He disqualifies the tributaries by terming them as too tiny to become sources of the Mississippi.

Lake Itasca as the Primary Source of Mississippi River

It is clear that the source of the river is Lake Itasca because a large channel of the river leaves the lake. The beginning of the Mississippi can be seen to be interconnected with Lake Itasca. It flows northwards from the lake. The channel of the Mississippi leaving the lake was engineered in the 1930s to make the tourist experience more exciting. The process, which included draining of the swampy area surrounding the source, was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Significance of Lake Itasca

Aside from its association with the Mississippi, Lake Itasca is very significant in a variety of other ways. For example, Lake Itasca facilitates the activities of the University of Minnesota’s Itasca Biological Station as well as the activities of the laboratories in the campus. The lake is also a source of water for the campus. There are also a number of recreational activities that take place in the lake.


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