Great River Eagle Days: 'You are awe-struck at their sheer size'

Jody Casden watches an eagle Saturday through a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spotting scope set up at near Lock and Dam 21 in Quincy. The site was part of Great River Eagle Days. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Jan. 26, 2013 10:09 pm Updated: Feb. 9, 2013 11:15 pm

By STEVE EIGHINGERHerald-Whig Staff Writer

At times, even Brent Groesch simply stands back, takes a deep breath and watches in appreciation.

"They are ... very majestic," said Groesch, pointing to one of the American bald eagles sequestered in a clump of tree branches no more than about 50 yards from the Mississippi River. "You are awe-struck at their sheer size."

Groesch is a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who was helping coordinate the portion of Saturday's Great River Eagle Days headquartered near Lock and Dam 21.

More than 400 people ventured to the viewing area, set up at the boat ramp and parking lot just south of the lock and dam.

"The recent cold spells have had the eagles staying around," Groesch said. "They are always near moving water. We've been having between 30 and 60 here every day."

Groesch said he loves being involved in an eagle-viewing event and watching those who take part.

"The people's reactions are best, especially the older generation who bring their grandkids to see the eagles. The crowd has been steady all day," he said early Saturday afternoon.

Groesch said what many people do not realize is an eagle's vision is eight times greater than a human's, and when one of the birds is perched high atop a tree near the river it means one of two things.

"He's either eyeing his next meal (in the river), or he's just roosting -- because he's full," Groesch said with a smile.

Once near extinction, the bald eagle is once again thriving. In 2007, the Department of Interior took the national bird off the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species. In the lower 48 states, the number of bald eagles has increased from 450 in the early 1960s to almost 5,000 today.

Bald eagles are found throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. About half of the world's 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska.

Also part of the Great River Eagle Days schedule was a celebration at America's Best Value Inn at 300 Gardner Expressway. The Native America-run portion of the event was sponsored by Standing Bear Council and featured live eagles presented by veterinarian Drew Kaiser of the Raptor Rehabilitaion Center in Quincy.

In addition, the council provided activities throughout the day, including a blessing of the eagles ceremony. Native American dancers and vendors drew a packed house at the hotel.

Leslie Haslem of the Tsalagi (Cherokee) tribe said the council hopes to make Quincy the permanent home for the annual event, which was had been held in Keokuk until a scheduling snafu nixed this year's gathering. She would like to move the event next year to a site such as the Oakley-Lindsay Center, which could more easily accommodate a turnout like Saturday's. Additional sponsorship will be needed for that to materialize, she said.

Standing Bear Council includes about 200 members, mostly from Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. Native Americans were on hand from as far away as Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina. Among the tribes represented were the Choctaw, Sauk Fox, Apache, Cherokee "and a lot of mixes," according to Haslem. The day-long event provided many insights to the Native American culture and traditions.

Haslem told of how time has brought together various factions of the Native American nations, including the mixing of the white population. Some whites have wished to adopt the Native American lifestyle and beliefs.

"There are those who wish to walk the Red way," Haslem said.

Haslem has been able to trace some of her family's roots to "The Trail of Tears," the name given to the forced relocation and movement of Native American nations from southeastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

The removal included many members of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations. Many Native Americans suffered from exposure, disease and starvation en route to their destinations, including 4,000 of the 13,000 relocated Cherokee.

Part of the removal, involving the Potawatomi tribe, passed through Quincy in 1838 and is remembered by a historical marker (placed in 1995) in the 600 block of Maine. More than 800 of the tribe were encamped in Quincy Oct. 8-10. The Potawatomi were being marched from southern Michigan to eastern Kansas.

"There is a rich Native American history in the Quincy area, and up and down the river," Haslem said. "That is one of the reasons we wanted to come to come to Quincy."