Mississippi River Parkway Commission annual meeting is in Marquette this week

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Pikes Peak State Park will be one of the tour stops for attendees of the national Mississippi River Parkway Commission’s annual meeting, held in Marquette this week. (NIT file photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Representatives from each of the 10 states included in the national Mississippi River Parkway Commission, which works to promote the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, will meet in Allamakee and Clayton counties this week for the group’s annual meeting.

The Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC), which includes representatives from the counties that border the Mississippi, was slated to host this year’s event, and selected Marquette as the base of operations.

“The bigger towns were mentioned, but they’ve hosted it previously,” said Jenna Pollock, executive director of the Clayton County Conservation Board and Clayton County’s representative to the MRPC. “Myself and Jane Regan (Allamakee County’s commissioner) pushed to have it in the Driftless Area.”

“It wasn’t too hard to convince people. Some of them had never visited the area before either,” Pollock added. “The consensus was to try something new and show people what we have to offer. It’s a completely different stretch of river.”

The event will kick off Tuesday night, Sept. 19, with an opening reception at the newly-opened Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center, in Lansing.

After business meetings on Wednesday, Sept. 20, attendees will tour Effigy Mounds National Monument and Yellow River State Forest, as well as WW Homestead Dairy and Steel Cow Studio, both in Waukon. Tying into the meeting’s theme of “agri-tainment,” the group will also witness corn harvesting in Allamakee County.

Wednesday night, a dinner will be held at Empty Nest Winery, near Waukon, with special guest speaker Bill Northey, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture. V.J. Smith, motivational speaker and author of the book “The Richest Man in Town,” will also speak. The dinner is open to the public, and tickets can be obtained by contacting Jane Regan at (563) 380-3635.

The annual meeting will wrap up on Thursday, Sept. 21. The day’s activities will include a “Taste of the Mississippi River,” prepared by Mike Valley, of Valley Fish and Cheese, and Drew Hager, of the Winneshiek Landing. Captain Robert Vavra will provide a backwater excursion of the Mississippi River on his Maiden Voyage tour boat. Sharonne Baylor, engineer with the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, will present on projects in Pools 8 and 9. Commissioners will visit Pikes Peak State Park, south of McGregor, as well.

The day will conclude with the annual Pilot’s Dinner and awards banquet, held at the Marquette Community Center. Tickets are also available to the public for this event by contacting Regan.

Pollock said it was hard to select the tours and activities offered to meeting attendees.

“This is a one-stop shop,” she said of the area. “You can experience so much here. It’s hard to fit it in three days.”

The Iowa MRPC, along with the local commissioners, hope to achieve several different goals by hosting the annual meeting, Pollock shared.

“One is to spread awareness about the Driftless Area,” she said.

They also want to highlight the area’s—and Iowa’s—connection to farming.

“We’re a farming landscape, but it’s also imperative to nurture the natural environment,” she explained. “We have different systems than people are used to. We want to stress the importance of the Driftless Area and its unique ecosystems, and how that works in tandem with agriculture.”

As a result, agriculture and agri-tourism, Pollock said, will be a large emphasis, but so will complimentary aspects of the state’s tourism industry, like wineries and history.

“We also want to show how we’ve evolved over the years,” she said. “The river is life, and it’s always flowing. Industries grew on the river, and now they’re spreading inward and new cultures are forming.”

That idea, Pollock noted, should resonate with the MRPC members, who work to not only promote the Great River Road, but to preserve and enhance the sites along the way.

“We’re all united by that big body of water,” she said.

To learn more about the Mississippi River Parkway Commission and the meeting, visit MRPCmembers.com. Learn more about the 3,000-mile-long Great River Road at experiencemississippiriver.com.

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