The lower Mississippi River has tourism and recreation potential, but it needs more boat ramps and bike trails, according to a new report by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Despite its cultural and historical significance, the report finds there has never been a large-scale effort to promote the Mississippi River as a tourism and recreational asset.
Army Corps of Engineers planner Marsha Raus said there is a demand for easier access to the river.
“More canoers and kayakers would potentially use the river if they could get to the backwaters and side channels more safely and more easily,” Raus said. “Many of the existing boat ramps come straight into the commercial navigation channel and they’re really not appropriate for launching smaller boats. Same for fishing. Fishermen would like to access many of the side channels and back channels.”
Many cities along the lower Mississippi River have bicycle trails, but there are harder to come by in small towns and rural areas. The existing Mississippi River trail that parallels the river is on existing roads and most of it does not have a designated bike lane, according to Raus.
“The Mississippi River is so valuable for navigation and the valley is so valuable for agriculture, and we spend a lot of money putting in place flood risk management projects - the levees and floodwalls and such - that we didn’t understand the economic and cultural value of recreation in the area,” Raus said.
Nationally, outdoor recreation is a $646 billion dollar industry per year, and a $17 billion dollar industry per year on the lower Mississippi River alone. Raus said 240,000 jobs in the lower river depend on recreation and tourism.
“It’s big business,” Raus said. “And we’re just now understanding just how big this big business is.”