This tiny park is little more then an empty lot on the Mississippi shoreline. Other then that there is just a sidewalk, a fenced in viewing area and some parking. So what makes this little neighborhood park so special? Simple it is the neighbors.
In the house next to the Mississippi Drive Park lives a woman who is affectionately called the Swan Lady. In the winter of 1987-88 fifteen trumpeter swans decided to winter in the Mississippi River near the park. They were drawn there by the open water, which is kept open by the power plant up river, and by the cracked corn that Sheila Lawrence was putting out for the ducks and geese.As the years have gone by more and more swans have wintered here and the Swan Lady has continued to provide for them. In recent years the numbers of swans have exceeded 1500.
It takes a lot of cracked corn to feed 1500 swans, 1200 lbs daily. The corn is stored in the trailer, pictured above, which is connected to a tube that leads down to the river. When it is feeding time the Swan Lady hits the valve and cracked corn goes rolling down the tube to fill up a large bin down the the river. The Swan Lady then hauls buckets from the bin to fill up several other bins around the area. She is the only one that the birds will tolerate in their space.
The trumpeter swan was almost extinct in the 1950s. At that point in time the only known swans were a couple of nesting pair in Yellowstone National Park. Later several thousand swans were found in remote regions of Canada and Alaska.
In Minnesota the trumpeter swan had not been since the 1880s. In 1966 the then Hennepin Parks Association began a release program using captive raised birds.
Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America, with an average wingspan of 80 inches and weighing in around 17 to 28 pounds.
As you can see from these pictures the trumpeters have beautiful feathers which was the main reason for their near extinction. These swans were hunted until the 1900s for their feathers. Feathers were used for clothing, particularly women's hats, and for writing quills.
Trumpeter swans can live a long time. With very few natural predators, except for when they are young, they can live over 25 years in the wild. In captivity trumpeters have lived into the 30s.
Young trumpeters, called cygnets, will stay with their parents throughout the winter until the next breeding season. At that point they will be chased away by their parent. The young swans will spend much of their time over the next two to three years with other unattached young swans. At three to four years they will find a mate of their own and begin to reproduce. Most swans will stay with their mate for life. Many of these different social groups are evident at Monticello and it is fun and very interesting to be able to observe their behavior.