Shared geography: Dive into the confluence
A National Park Service conference in 2009 sparked the idea of local communities working together to share common concerns, foster partnerships and encourage tourism.
The Confluence Project started not long after with local and regional people working toward the goal of creating a common vision of education, conservation and recreation at the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers.
Members of the project include people from two national parks, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway; the Carpenter Nature Center in Hastings, Minn.; the Friends of Freedom Park in Prescott; the Minnesota DNR; Pierce County, Wisc.; Dakota and Washington counties in Minnesota; the city of River Falls; Prescott; and the Minnesota cities of Afton and Hastings.
Mayors from each of the cities gave a presentation Friday, Oct. 12, at the River Falls Public Library describing their town's unique characteristics.
River Falls Mayor Dan Toland told about the Kinnickinnic River's unique attributes, as well as the many opportunities for recreation in and around it.
Toland highlighted the city's trails, history tours, many festivals and more. Resident and longtime member of the Community Arts Base Sue Beckham also presented information.
Website builder Mandy Matzek also spoke to the crowd as she showed the site on a big screen: "Its main job is to inform," she said, adding that the designers of it worked hard to procure photography that highlights the stunning visual beauty of the area.
She explained that the website includes a powerful map feature with layers that already show many of the region's natural assets. It will continue to grow and expand to include more things.
The speakers said the symposium was the official "soft" launch of the website that intends to bring visitors to and from all four areas of the confluence.
Members of GRC define its geography this way: "This project encompasses the physical territory around the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers located in the greater Afton, Hastings, Prescott and River Falls areas."
The site aims to promote not only the region's natural beauty, but also its fishing, boating, canoeing, hiking, commercial shipping, trains, swimming, motorcycling, biking, hiking, history and more.
The Confluence Concierge portion of the website gives visitors a chance to zero in on specific activity packages that might include music, wine, patio dining, dessert, a bed-n-breakfast stay, or a creative combination of several things.
Margaret Smith, executive director for the Friends of Freedom Park Center, said she often receives requests from people looking for that kind of guidance.
For example, maybe they'd ride bikes or motorcycles into town and ask where they could hear live music along the route.
Others may want to do outdoor recreation then fine dining. People can choose and create any number of combinations that take them to the four main communities of the GRC.
As people raised their hands to mention or ask about specific areas, activities or entities, the presenters made clear that the website is and will always be a work in progress.
The idea is to add to it, enrich it and give people something that helps them come and enjoy all the region has to offer.
"We also recognize there are a lot of things missing on here that we need to add," said Gene Groebner of the Minnesota DNR.
Presenter Matzek agreed, "Partnerships are going to be key."
Symposium packages included a list of all the attendees to encourage immediate networking and communication. Participants spent the first part of the day inside the library hearing presentations and seeing the site. They were on a bus tour for the second part of the day that included seeing River Falls parks along the Kinnickinnic River and trails, the new Point Douglas Trail site, the Carpenter Nature Center, the new Hwy 61 bridge and its trail, Hastings trails and a prairie restoration project, and the LeDuc Historic Estate and Prescott's Orange Dragon Art Gallery.
The presenters encouraged everyone to check out the site, refer other people to it and provide feedback.
Much more information is available about the Great Rivers Confluence Project and its activities at the newly launched website: