Stakeholders plan for future of Iowa Great River Road corridor

David Dahlquist facilitated a Great River Road stakeholders meeting at the Driftless Area Wetland Centre. Five panelists from the area and members of the audience were encouraged to voice their ideas for the future of the byway, and all voted on their top six priorities before the meeting concluded. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

The Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Commission held a stakeholders’ meeting on Thursday, April 3, as part of the process of updating the Iowa Great River Road corridor management plan. David L. Dahlquist and Associates (DDA), of Des Moines, facilitated the meeting at the Driftless Area Wetland Centre of Marquette, during which a panel of community members presented their ideas for missions, goals, and objectives for the future of the Iowa Great River Road. 

DDA surveyed both residents and visitors along the Great River Road during 2013, gauging awareness and determining the perceptions of the byway. Results of the survey were presented to those in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, along with a menu of potential actions for the future. 

“This is Iowa’s best tourist attraction,” said Dahlquist of the byway. “800,000 people live within 10 miles of the Iowa Great River Road.” The road winds through 10 Iowa counties and follows the Mississippi River through 10 states. 

“We have a lot of loyalty and commitment to the area,” said Breann Bye, Associate at DDA. Seventy percent of those surveyed are repeat visitors, and 40% of those have been visiting the area for over 25 years. 

Residents and visitors were surveyed at various events and attractions along the Great River Road, including Guttenberg’s Germanfest. “We got a great survey response from Germanfest,” Dahlquist said, noting that many of the ‘comments’ sections of the survey were filled out. “People do love Germanfest!” 

While 75% of visitors felt that no additional tourist services or visitor amenities were needed along Great River Road, explained Bye, “Residents are saying, ‘We could do more.’” Despite what visitors are saying, 55% of residents feel that additional services and amenities for tourists are needed.

Residents and tourists agreed overwhelmingly about one thing: The beauty of natural scenery along the Iowa Great River Road is its most important attribute.  With that in mind, panelist Rich King of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, McGregor District, listed resource conservation as his top priority. 

All panelists were in favor of conserving, protecting and promoting the Mississippi River and its tributaries, as well as other botanical and biological resources along the Great River Road corridor and its viewshed (any land visible from the road).

Panelists were asked to share their priorities from four different areas the plan will address: Intrinsic resource conservation, physical improvements, promotion and interpretation, and administrative operations. Panelist Karla Organist, the transportation and community planning specialist from UIERPC who assisted with Guttenberg’s new strategic plan, said, “Cleaning up trash and litter are really big things that could make an immediate improvement – and they’re easy.” She was also in favor of hospitality training for businesses and welcome centers along Great River Road.

Teresa Wiemerslage, of the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, suggested tying food into the Great River Road Experience, using the phrase ‘Taste of place.’ Bruce Plumborg, Mainstreet Director in Lansing, had many ideas for the future of the Iowa Great River Road, but emphasized that the new corridor management plan must make a personal connection to stakeholders in order to motivate them to take action.

Discussion at the meeting also touched on the challenges posed by invasive species, the slowing of tourism during Iowa winters, the Mississippi River Trail, and various other topics of relevance to the byway and its corridor. 

“It takes a village to take care of a byway,” Dahlquist said. Thursday’s stakeholder meeting was one in a series of six from Marquette to Burlington. For more information, complete survey results, or to share your thoughts for the future of the Iowa Great River Road, visit and click the link for document library.

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