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Marsh Matters: The History of the La Crosse Marsh

Photograph by Maddie Rogin

Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse
Citation: Thompson, Craig. Oral History Interview with Craig Thompson. By Doris Bennett and Charles R. Lee. Murphy Library Area Research Center, University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, 2004.


Collection Summary 


This oral history collection is an entertaining deep-dive into the history and conservation efforts concerning the La Crosse marsh. It consists of a just over 60 minute CD oral history recording. An oral history is information in the form of interviews from people who have extensive knowledge on the subjects discussed. Craig Thompson, the interviewee, was an employee of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who studied wildlife management and conservation. The interview was conducted in 2004 by UWL student Doris Bennett and UWL historian Charles Lee. The oral history was recorded at three different La Crosse locations on the same day, and is very entertaining with jokes being cracked in the transitional car rides to the different locations.

The La Crosse marsh is a beautifully maintained local ecosystem, but it hasn’t always been that way. Ever since Native Americans settled in the area, the marshes of La Crosse have presented blessings and curses. Marshes have been drained, filled in, or dammed up in order to allow for more developed urban spaces. While you listen, think to yourself: What made people want to conserve these marshes, and why did they need conserving? Also, focus on the methods of conservation being used to bring the marsh back. Because conservation is a nationwide effort, these methods could very well be used where you live.


Collection Description


It’s best to listen to this entire oral history. After all, it’s only an hour long! Listening to the entire recording is valuable because it provides a cohesive flow of information with the added benefit of enjoying the interviewee’s personality. You may also come across tidbits of information you find interesting that are not included in the timestamps below, and they could lead you on a totally different historical journey. However, if you are pressed for time, here are some key moments that altogether tell a single story about the marsh:

NOTE: The terms “wetland” and “marsh” are used interchangeably throughout the recording.



2:01 to 5:10 – This section of the recording introduces Craig Thompson and his work in wildlife management. It also introduces the interviewers, but you only need to focus on Thompson’s introduction. What does he do, and why is it important?

7:20 to 10:33 – In this section, Thompson explains how floodplain marshes function as unique ecosystems. The terms used are a bit technical, so don’t be afraid to pause the recording and look up a word you don’t know! (By the way, there’s a glossary at the end of this FFA. Just scroll down!) While you listen, think about why people should understand the unique nature of these environments.

11:42 to 15:00 – This part in the recording presents the impacts of human settlement on the marshes of La Crosse. Thompson brings up a number of interesting changes made to the marsh that have helped people settle in the La Crosse area. So, while you listen, make note of ways humans can manipulate their environment. How could those manipulations harm the environment in the long run?

17:27 to 20:43 – This section of the recording deals with the reasons why settlers were attracted to the wetlands. While listening, think to yourself: Why do people settle in wetland environments when it is difficult to do so?

29:04 to 34:12 – This portion of the recording discusses the importance of upland ridges. Again, there’s some technical jargon, so be vigilant and pause when you need to look something up. What are these upland ridges? How do they keep the marsh healthy?

38:11 to 45:25 – This part of the recording covers the industrial and commercial history of the marsh. It starts with some business matters that are not necessary to understand the story Thompson is telling, so if you want to, you may skip the first three minutes and jump to the effects of industry development in La Crosse at 41:00. Focus on how La Crosse industry changed the marsh, and why it is important to understand these changes.

46:34 to 48:58 – This part is about the relationships between wetland forests and willow-bed environments. Thompson makes a point that these types of forests are unique. Listen for what makes wetland forests unique, and why it is important to protect them.

50:35 to 53:10 – In this part, Thompson talks about the issues with invasive species living in the marshes. This is particularly relevant today, since invasive species are even more widespread. So, keep in mind: How are invasive species a threat to the marsh? And, why should you be concerned about them?

55:47 to 59:53 – The last part of the recording discusses how far the marsh has come in terms of environmental conservation. For the final stretch, think about how people in La Crosse worked to conserve the wetlands. What social changes have occurred to make people want to conserve the wetlands?


Interesting Moments

20:44 to 29:00 – This section isn’t crucial to understanding the story, but it is interesting to listen to if you have the time. It discusses the relationship of the Native Americans with the marshes and their farming practices.


Reviewed by: Madeline Rogin

See also


Adaptation: Adjustment to environmental conditions

Conservation: A careful preservation and protection of something, especially: Planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect

Industrialization: The act or process of industrializing: The widespread development of industries in a region, country, culture, etc.

Invasive Species: An organism that causes ecological or economic harm in a new environment where it is not native

Marsh: A tract of soft wet land usually characterized by grasses or cattails. NOTE: In this interview, we are talking about a marsh, not a swamp. Don’t know the difference? Look it up!

Upland Ridges: Land or an area of land lying above the level where water flows.

Urban Development: A system of residential expansion that creates cities.