The landscapes and cultures in the 10 states along the Mississippi River have something in common besides neighboring one of the longest waterways in North America.
National Geographic has teamed with regional tourism-related agencies to launch a comprehensive online guide featuring places that are linked to the culture and heritage of the river and committed to preserving its environment.
The Mississippi River Geotourism MapGuide was unveiled to the public Wednesday at the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative Annual Meeting in Natchez. About 100 people attended the meeting.
Geotourism, or tourism that celebrates the distinctive character of a region, such as its environment, heritage and culture, is featured by National Geographic on 20 similar websites. Other guides focus on the Sierra Nevada, Sedona Verde Valley and the East Tennessee River Valley.
The Mississippi River guide features more than 1,300 places of interest along the Mississippi River, including Tunica River Park in Tunica Resorts, the site of the former Baptist Industrial College in Hernando, Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, the Lower Mississippi River Museum in Vicksburg and the William Johnson House in Natchez.
Frank Biasi, director of Digital Development and Geotourism for National Geographic Maps, said he and regional agencies have a goal of growing its list of places to 3,000 or 4,000 over the next couple of years.
Although there are websites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp and various other resources that list things to do or see in these states, Biasi said the National Geographic guides look at regions not covered by an existing traditional tourism office, since these regions are not defined by political or geographic boundaries.
“They fall between the cracks … yet they hold together and have an identity of their own,” Biasi said. “There is not really an organization that can market them adequately. These are less well-known destinations, but they have an interesting story.”
For instance, the guide does not list chain establishments and sites must go through a selection process to be listed, with National Geographic making the final call.
For Clarksdale Mayor Bill Luckett, there are also huge benefits to promoting local tourism through National Geographic, which he considers a name brand around the world.
“I used to save my National Geographic magazines for years,” Luckett said. “It carries some real clout.”
Luckett also said the site helps spread Mississippi’s name despite the state’s relatively low budget for tourism in previous years.
The Delta Regional Authority, a government agency that aims to improve economic opportunities in the Delta region from Southern Illinois to Louisiana, is one of the main public sector sponsors involved in getting the website up and running, said agency spokesman Spencer Lucker.
Lucker said creating the website has been a $477,000 project so far.
In 2014, the agency invested about $300,000 into the website project. The other $177,000 has come from private and philanthropic donors, Lucker said.
Other sponsors include Dow McVean, chairman of the Big River Strategic Initiative, which includes a collection of infrastructure projects built around the Mississippi River and its surrounding landscape.