Ask five people what Missouri River Country means to them, and you’re likely to get five different answers. It’s both the blessing and the curse of this naturally magnificent region, where you can do so many big things in a small, unique area.
In the meandering, 60-mile corridor that stretches from St. Charles to Hermann you can, for example, ride a bike along the Katy Trail, America’s longest rail-trail, next to its longest river. Explore the historic home of Daniel Boone. Marvel at the unspoiled beauty of the Shaw Nature Reserve and August A. Busch Conservation Area. Or sample wine at the country’s first official Viticultural Area (created before Napa Valley’s).
“Obviously, the first thing Missouri River Country makes me think of is the Missouri River, as it passes right through our city,” said the Mayor of Washington, Missouri, Sandy Lucy. “The river changes color almost hour by hour. There’s the beautiful part of the day and the not-so-beautiful. I think of calm and peaceful things like that.”
Lucy is one of many officials from state, county and municipal governments, non-profit organizations and local businesses who, for the past few years, have been working to establish a new tourism brand for the Missouri River Country region. The idea: to find ways to boost commerce through collaboration and conservation.
“We all think it’s a great idea, because none of us has enough in our own community to market to the tourist to stay for a whole week,” said Lucy. “But the concept to market us as a region is pretty amazing. It’s another way to build relationships with our visitors and individuals that may lead to residence and business opportunities in the future.”
The Missouri River Country initiative started in 2015 at the first Commerce and Conservation conference organized by Dan Burkhardt, founder of the Katy Land Trust and co-founder of Magnificent Missouri. This meeting brought 130 people together in Washington to examine the assets and qualities of the region. The event included presentations from various speakers and discussions on the need to preserve the area’s natural and cultural riches, with an eye on promoting tourism and positively impacting economies.
A second conference was held in 2016, when those in attendance approved a Missouri River Country logo created by St. Louis-based designer Diann Cage that would serve to link the individual river communities and present them as a corridor, full of nature-based, outdoor recreation and entertainment activities. At this meeting Chad Eggen, executive director of the Boonslick Regional Planning Commission, announced that his group would create a board for the Missouri River Country initiative to carry the work into the future
“We’re a member organization, and these cities are already our members, and they wanted us to continue to develop [Missouri River Country] as a regional project,” said Eggen. “This is now dedicated as a project of our comprehensive economic development strategy. Staff meet and review the Missouri River Country initiative on a regular basis.”
In addition to the logo, a new website is under development at MoRiverCountry.com. It highlights the seven communities along the 60 miles of waterway — St. Charles, Defiance, Augusta, Washington, Marthasville, New Haven and Hermann — and will officially launch this spring, with corresponding social media channels.
“The next step is to start planning for a stakeholder engagement meeting that will invite everybody to take part in a Missouri River Country event held cooperatively in every community,” said Eggen, adding the event will hopefully take place in 2018.
One stakeholder who is excited about the project is Kristy Stoyer, director of communications at The Nature Conservancy in Missouri and a Washington native. She says her organization “understands the importance of keeping streams and rivers healthy for people and nature.”
“We take the Missouri River for granted sometimes, but the flood plains slow and retain water, and that’s a benefit to the communities during flooding events,” she said. “The river also provides drinking water, a great habitat for migratory birds and rich soil for our farmers to grow crops.”
Hubie Kluesner agrees. As Warren County commissioner and a working farmer, he sees the Missouri River Country initiative as a way to help rewire how people think about agriculture and conservation.
“So many people have become disconnected with food and agriculture and what goes on there. That’s a shame,” he said. “I hope as people would come out and intermingle in the little towns in the area, they would somewhere along the line learn that all the communities are connected to agriculture in some way. If you cover it all up with concrete, in some due time we will wind up in trouble.”
Kluesner imagines Missouri River Country tourists stopping along the Katy Trail in April to watch farmers on nearby fields as they use large machinery, up to 16 rows wide, to plant corn seeds. In July they would see tassels emerging, and by early September they could witness combines harvesting the corn. “It’s a flurry of activity that time of year,” he said.
Along with the Katy Trail, Highway 94 provides a scenic connection between most of the Missouri River Country communities. A trolley currently offers out-of-town service between the authentic, German-inspired wineries of Hermann and other towns like Augusta and Marthasville. Another link being considered is a river taxi.
“A group of people within the communities on the river are actively looking into it,” said Stoyer. “I think it would be a great way to tie to towns together. It’s easier and more enjoyable than driving, and you get to look at the river and see more of the landscape.”
Tara Steffens, operations officer for Pinckney Bend Distillery in New Haven, hopes the Missouri River Country initiative will help shine a brighter light on all the communities along this beautiful stretch of rolling hills and bottomlands.
“Hermann and Washington do a lot of self-promotion already, and I know New Haven is excited to get some regional advertising out there to encourage people to spend some time in this area,” she said. “A lot of people drive through town and have no idea they did.”
Like a lot of river towns, New Haven is compact but rich in history and culture. It became a stop on the Union Pacific Railroad in 1856; hosts the annual Balloon Glow, Race & Festival; holds the only short film festival in the state; and draws thousands each year to its eclectic Firefest celebration. And, of course, there’s the award-winning distillery.
“The distillery pulls a lot of people from St. Louis and Kansas and Illinois and the larger Midwest,” said Steffens. “Two days ago, we had someone from Liberia, and we’ve had folks from England. A group at the U.S. Embassy in Asia likes us and has sought us out to plan a trip here.
“A lot of people who visit the distillery ask, ‘Why did you pick New Haven?’ Because we’re from here, and we’re proud of that,” she continued. “We think in Missouri River Country, you can do big things in small, unique towns. That’s why it’s important to us to start promoting tourism in the region.”
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine. Article reprinted with permission from Across STL magazine.