Photos By: James Pepper,

Written By: Isabelle Flener,  


The calming sound of the flowing course of water moving down the river evokes a sense of peace in any person. It is a breathtaking and serene sight, but how does one carefully keep it that way? The National Great Rivers Research & Education Center (NGRREC) focuses on exactly that.  


“Our mission is undoubtedly to diligently study the communities’ effect on the river as well as rivers effect on community,” shares Amy Monroe, Senior Assistant Intern Program Coordinator. Local scientists and ecologists study terrestrial life in many various aspects, Monroe.  


The Ecology Lab is one place scientists go to research and observe numerous things.  


“One goal of the Ecology Lab is to look at how species interact with each other and how they manage their habitats. We look to identify what is driving species interactions and what their ecosystems can be like,” shares Anthony Dell, Ph.D. – Scientist. 


But what would an experiment of that kind look like? 


“An experiment we work on is exposing one set of fish to microplastics, and not exposing the other set of fish. The fish will be in separate holding tanks for a few weeks, then put into other tanks to see how each set of fish interacts in their communities and with each other. From that, we can naturally infer if exposure to micro-plastics changes the way fish communities act,” says Mike Louison, Ph.D. – Scientist. 


The National Great Rivers Research & Education Center is home to the Swarovski Water School. NCGRREC is the sole local project partner in the United States for the Swarovski Water School. 


“The purpose of the school is to increase awareness that what you do on land matters to the water (river),” shares Jennifer Mandeville, Swarovski Water School Educator. Using less plastic and conserving your water are prime examples of how to willingly help keep the river safe, said Mandeville. 


“We take what the scientists discover and make that information easily consumable and understandable for people. We demonstrate to them how to properly apply it into their modern lives,” shares Mandeville. 


“The first step is to be aware anything you put on land can end up in the river,” reveals Monroe. Minimizing disposable trash, plastic, and single-use items is something you can be more aware of. As well as disposing of things like cigarette buds and dog waste properly, states Monroe. 


There are summer camps and numerous activities throughout the year to persuade children to get involved and be aware of how to manage their water usage. 


“Everything used for NGRREC must be locally sourced. Our paddle boards and canoes were given to us locally, as well as obtaining the building’s limestone from a small mom-and-pops shop in Wisconsin,” shares Monroe. 


The building was designed with limestone. The inside has recycled glass for the front counter, and recycled newspaper for the insulation. The outside is surrounded by native species. The native species accompany visitors up a pathway to the Green Roof with little solar panels on the roof. There are large solar panels surrounding the building providing energy to it. 


“The NGRREC building runs between 30%-60% off the solar panels. The solar panels can adjust themselves to pull in more sun and power,” shares Monroe. 


On the street in front of the beautiful building is a free charging station for electric vehicles. Just another innovative way The National Great Rivers Research & Education Center shares its energy-saving resources with the public. 


NGRREC generously offers a paid internship program for local college students to provide a unique opportunity to gain knowledge and experience in different environmental careers. 


The National Great Rivers Research & Education Center is open Monday-Friday 8 am-4 pm.  


The lobby and the Green Roof are open to the public.  


Every 3rd Tuesday of every month from 6 pm-8 pm is Neighbor Night, open for the public to enjoy and see what NGRREC is all about.  


The National Great Rivers Research & Education Center is located at 1 Confluence Way, East Alton, IL 62024.  


To learn more about NGRREC go to or call +1 (618) 468-2900. 


About Isabelle Flener

Isabelle is working towards her Associates of Arts degree, with plans to graduate in Fall 2024. After completing her arts degree, she intends to transfer to a university to pursue a degree in photojournalism.
View all posts by Isabelle Flener →

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