Gayle Harper in her book, “Roadtrip with A Raindrop,” writes that a raindrop falling in the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota will take 90 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico. And I like to think that reading and leafing through the new book, “The Great River: 400 Miles on the Mississippi River” – a partnership between the Quad-City Times and the Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau -- will slow us down so that all of us in our region can realize a new perspective on the river. The Quad-City Times, usually used to immediacy in the news business, not doubt had to make time adjustments as the book took many months and many miles to create.
One value of the Great River is tourism. The United States Travel Association annual county-by-county impact of travel shows a billion dollars worth of visitor expenditures in the counties along the river in Iowa and Illinois. Tourism ranks third, only behind manufacturing and agriculture, as an economic drive. I like to think The Great River will get more people on the river – rowing and sculling via the Two Rivers YMCA, riding the Channel Cat where you are low enough in the water that you can feel the spray on your face. Or if you can’t get on the river, get along the river on the Great River Road or on the Mississippi River Trail. That new Interstate 74 bridge, which will be under construction for the next few years, is a great reason to watch and learn as it rises from the surface. My vision for the next phase of river tourism is getting visitors above the river – tram rides, a zip line or views from the overlook atop the new Interstate 74 bridge.
Another value of the Great River is that it identifies our region. I count no fewer than 30 businesses in a Quad-Cities phone book that have “Mississippi” in their names.
There are 78 incorporated municipalities on the upper Mississippi River from Rock Island to St. Paul, and more than double that on the lower section of the river. And most of the mayors of the municipalities will be here Sept. 18-20 for the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI). What a way to showcase our region to thought leaders from along the length of the river.
Recreation is another value of the Great River. Mark Twain called the river “a wondrous book.” Sound familiar? Nearly every year, this is an adventure that travels the length of the Mississippi by swimming, rafting, canoeing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and bicycle. Then a couple of years ago there was the group that paddled up river to go north.
Finally, another value is economic development, but let’s stop and think about that in a new way. Many communities have incentives and infrastructure to attract new businesses and new residents. At the Community Development Institute that I have taught for several years, I ask economic development professionals what is the best thing about their communities. What is mentioned is arts, culture, parks, recreation, all quality of life issues, all amenities to be enjoyed. Yet to be mentioned are roads or sewers.
The Quad-Cities offers bald eagles, pelicans, trails, and more. With this warm weather this past week, I have noticed an inordinate number of photos of our extraordinary sunsets posted on Facebook. Twain supposedly wrote that the sunsets on our bend of the river are the most extraordinary of anywhere on the river. (He admitted he had no personal knowledge of our sunrises.)
Stop and think. Those photographers had to slow down, maybe even stop, to frame and capture those photos of the sunsets over our river. I am hopeful the new book “The Great River” will give us pause to consider just how important and magnificent the Mississippi River is to our communities and to our way of life.