An odd-looking craft is casting off this morning at the Quad Cities to proceed down the river after docking overnight in Moline. The Audubon Ark is a sternwheeler accompanied by a barge from the Quad Cities down to St. Louis and back. One volunteer is John Stravers, who says human use of the river doesn’t have to pit business against nature. He says instead of the environmentalists on one side yelling at industrial users, and businesses saying environmentalists are only a problem, the polarization could be eased and a plan found that both sides can agree on. Stravers says this is the start of the fifth annual “Upper Mississippi Campaign.” They’re taking a month to go to St. Louis, come back to the Quad Cities by September 20th, then it’s upriver in time for the Hawk Watch at Effigy Mounds National Monument, then return to Dubuque to “port” for the winter. A volunteer crew will hold hold listening sessions at stops along the river in the 100-foot craft. It’s actually a 60-foot boat pushing a 40-foot barge that acts as the crew’s living room, patio, and place to receive guests, have education events and sit on porch swings, he says, to watch the river go by. The boat’s equipped with bunks, a kitchen and pilot house as well as motorized paddlewheel. Volunteers will give out information on the plans being considered by the Army Corps of Engineers for the river’s future but also talk with residents along the banks about the river’s history.He says it’s a critical time with decisions in the next few years about how the river will be used for navigation and wildlife habitat. From here the Lilly Belle stern-wheeler heads to stops at Muscatine, Burlington and Fort Madison before the Audubon Ark trip continues to St. Louis.