Mar-Mac area looks to capitalize on geotourism

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Geotourism is the new buzz word around the McGregor and Marquette area thanks to National Geographic’s new Mississippi River Corridor Geotourism Program. The term, according to National Geographic, means “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents.” (NIT file photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Geotourism is the new buzz word around the McGregor and Marquette area thanks to National Geographic’s new Mississippi River Corridor Geotourism Program.

The term, according to National Geographic, means “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents.”

Last month, McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carolyn Gallagher and Katrina Moyna, Marquette’s Business and Tourism Coordinator, each attended meetings explaining the program, which “seeks to capture and promote the culture, heritage and ecological diversity of the people and places that are connected to the Mississippi River through the voices and stories of the people who live along its shores.”

In order to do this, places up and down the Mississippi are encouraged to nominate distinctive and authentic points of interest that make the area unique. That can include businesses like bars and restaurants, shops, B&Bs and wineries; farmers markets; art and nature centers; museums and historic sites; festivals and events; geologic features like the bluffs; and outdoor experiences like hiking, hunting, fishing or visiting parks. Any points of interest located within a county, like Clayton County, that borders the Mississippi is eligible. A Geotourism MapGuide website will be created using these points of interest, allowing travelers to plan trips along the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River Corridor Geotourism Program is National Geographic’s 20th MapGuide. Similar programs were developed for places like the U.S. Gulf Coast States, the Greater Yellowstone area and the Appalachian Mountains.

“They want to promote the Mississippi on par with the Nile, Amazon and Yangtze Rivers,” said Moyna, comparing the Mississippi to the world’s other large rivers. “They think it’s a place for international travel.”

This stretch of the river is a gold mine, added Moyna, citing Fort Crawford, Effigy Mounds National Monument, Pikes Peak State Park and Marquette’s planned overlook and boardwalk as some of the big draws.

“There’s so much history,” she said. “We’ve got the Native Americans, explorers, military and the Ringling Brothers. There’s culture, food and drink and fishing.”

Gallagher has encouraged local businesses and cultural entities to nominate themselves for the map and, last week, invited people to attend a workshop at Old Man River Restaurant and Brewery in McGregor, where she coached them through the process.

 “It can be as short or as extreme as you want,” she said of each person’s nomination.

To get started, go to mississippiriver.natgeotourism.com. There, you’ll sign up, creating a username and password. Once that is complete, click on the nomination dashboard. You’ll have to sign in again, so don’t forget your username and password. After that, click on the “add new nomination button.” You’ll be presented with a list of options, so pick the one that best describes the business, event, museum, natural area, outdoor activity, etc., you would like to nominate. From there, you’ll be prompted to provide some information about your point of interest. You’ll also plot your location on a map.

Another key component of the process is uploading photos and even videos about your nomination. Using at least four photos is best, said Gallagher. While a video is not mandatory, it makes the nomination more eye-catching and appealing, she added. The goal is to attract tourists to click on the location on the MapGuide website, then, eventually, physically travel to the area, so you’ll want to make it stand out.

“It really doesn’t take that long,” Gallagher said, noting that those who would like help with the nomination process can attend another workshop Tuesday, April 7, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Other sessions can be arranged if more people are interested.

Once you’ve submitted the nomination, Gallagher said the website editor will contact you if there are any issues, such as a duplicate nomination. You’ll get stats about your submission, detailing how many people look at it and where they are located. If changes or updates need to be made, you’ll be notified.

A person, group or organization can nominate more than one thing, but Gallagher warned they’ll be responsible for the site’s continued upkeep, so don’t nominate something if you cannot maintain it.

The more locals who participate, the better off the area will be, Gallagher said.

“The more people we can get to submit, the better each individual nomination has of being seen,” she said. “This is free advertising, publicity and exposure. If you type ‘Mississippi River’ or ‘National Geographic’ into Google, this is going to pop up. It’s important for [local entities] to be on there.”

With its sustainability approach to tourism, geotourism takes a principle from ecotourism, said Moyna. Ecotourism advocates responsible travel to areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of local people and involves interpretation and education.

“You’re attracting tourists who appreciate the area for what it is, but geotourism involves history and culture, too,” Moyna added. “The communities benefit and the local business owners, museums, parks and nature centers benefit.”

As a result, it creates a “full picture” for tourists, she said, showing off not just the area’s natural beauty, but also the history, culture and people who call the area home.

Gallagher agreed the different aspects feed off one another.

“The natural beauty will intrigue people, and then they’ll see the businesses and want to eat and shop here.”

With any luck, once visitors make one trip, they’ll want to return.

“You can’t just experience all of the Mississippi in one trip,” Moyna said. “I feel they’ll be back for more.”

The Mississippi River Corridor Geotourism Program MapGuide website is expected to “go live” next summer, with National Geographic continuing on as a sponsor. To participate under the respected National Geographic name makes the experience especially exciting, said both Gallagher and Moyna. National Geographic has promoted education, science, geography, archeology and conservation for nearly 130 years.

“Those are all things we have here, so it’s a really cool opportunity,” Moyna said.

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