mndot workers planting a tree

Great River Road Development Study

Report and Executive Summary

Great River Road Development Study

The Great River Road Report, available below, was initially developed in 2000 and the format may not accessible to all assistive reader devices. If your reader is unable to access the document please contact Carol Zoff so that the report can be made available in an alternative format. The executive summary of this document has been converted to an HTML file so that all users may preview contents of the report.




Executive Summary

The following report discusses the ability of the Great River Road to support tourism in Minnesota. The analysis is premised on the concept that the tourist will be the final arbiter, the person who ultimately decides if the Great River Road program has been successful or not. Of course this is merely an analytical approach. In reality, it will be the individual communities that will decide if they want tourism as an industry. They will determine if tourism enhances their quality of life and if they want to promote it. They will determine whom to attract, when they want them to visit, and how many tourists should be invited into their community.


It is not the purpose of this study to tell communities that they should increase tourism. The basic assumption of this study was that communities had already determined that the Great River Road was valuable and that one of its primary purposes was to generate tourism and income from tourists. Indeed, the value and purpose of the Great River Road was established over twenty years ago in a series of public discussions between the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the communities along the Mississippi River. It was not the intent of this study to revisit that discussion but rather to evaluate if the Great River Road program was achieving its goal of promoting tourism.



Report Contents


An overview of the purpose of the Great River Road and its guiding concepts are outlined in Section 2: Program History. The history of the program, particularly, how the administration of the Great River Road has effected the selection and development of the route and the promotion of tourism is discussed in this section. The reasons for the study, how it was structured, and what were its goals are discussed in Section 3: Project Purpose.


The study was ambitious. Although it focused on approximately 575 miles of roadway that meandered between Ontario and Iowa, the complete 1200 miles of Great River Road in Minnesota was within its purview. Due to financial considerations, the Minnesota Department of Transportation requested that the primary focus be on three major segments: the National Route from Lake Itasca to Point Douglas near Hastings; the State Route downstream from Hastings to the border with Iowa; and the East Canadian Extension from Bemidji to International Falls.


Those resources that contribute to the experience a tourist has while traveling on the three selected segments of the Great River Road were inventoried and analyzed. Resources found on the parallel State Route from Lake Itasca to Hastings, the West Canadian Extension from Lake Itasca to Manitoba, and all designated spurs were typically not inventoried and analyzed as part of this project unless they were thought to contribute significantly to the experience of the tourist.


Four categories of resources were inventoried: recreational resources, cultural resources, river resources, and transportation resources. The inventory of recreational resources included 1,225 parks, forests, wildlife refuges, campgrounds, picnic areas, interpretive markers, museums, golf courses, and festivals. The inventory of cultural resources included 1,648 sites on the National Register of Historic Places. The inventory of river resources included 179 beaches, fishing piers, water access sites, and dams. The inventory of transportation resources included 3,224 segments of roadway, rest areas, trails, trail heads, and tourist regions. All in all, over 6,000 separate resources were inventoried as part of the project. Over 200,000 attributes or pieces of information were collected about these resources. This information was stored in a Geographic Information System and transferred to Mn/DOT to be used by future stewards of the Great River Road. A synopsis of the resource inventory is presented in Section 4: Resource Summary.


The fifth section of the report discusses the tourist. It reports on an extensive survey of 555 people who visited the Great River Road in the summer and fall of 1998. The survey reveals several interesting facts about typical Great River Road travelers and their preferences. For instance, it was discovered that tourists like to take short three-day vacations, two-hour pleasure drives, and over half don’t like to have their view of the river interrupted for more than one-half hour at a time while they travel on the Great River Road. The results of the survey are reported in the first part of Section 5: The Tourist. Understanding the image that tourists have of the Mississippi River and Great River Road and how brand identity is created and promoted is essential for positioning the corridor as a desirable destination. Concepts for ingraining a desirable image into the minds of tourists are offered in Section 5: The Tourist. An analysis of the survey revealed that the market was segmented by tourist motivations and travel styles. Seven different motivations were defined including guests, loungers, players, explorers, spectators, pilgrims, and accumulators.
Guests were people who were visiting friends and family. Loungers were people seeking relaxation. Players sought adventure. Explorers were attempting to expand their knowledge or skills. Spectators were seeking to be entertained. Pilgrims desired experiences that would change their perception of life and its meaning. Accumulators wanted to purchase goods or services.


Four different travel styles were defined based by how people structured their trip. People either were Group-Structured, Self-Structured, Unstructured, or a combination of Group and Self-Structured called Semi-Structured. The complete discussion of tourist motivations and travel styles also occurs in Section 5: The Tourist.


Section 5 concludes with a discussion of Tourism Implications. As a result of the analysis of tourists, six implications for tourism are addressed. These six implications are:



Section 6: Marketing Strategies presents the concept that there are certain types of trips that are better supported in particular locations. It implies that the all of the Great River Road can’t be all things to all people. Using four criteria, it suggests that it is more useful to segment the Great River Road into seven destination areas. The four criteria are:



The seven destination areas created are:



Brief narratives of each destination area are presented in Section 6:Marketing Strategies. The section concludes by suggesting that some portions of some destination areas deserve to be more thoroughly studied as examples that could be used by other destination areas to enhance tourism on the Great River Road. These examples became the Demonstration Areas discussed in Section 7: Demonstra-tion Areas. Four demonstration areas were selected for further analysis:



A discussion of the resources that constitute the demonstration area, what type of tourists find it attractive, what capital improvements are necessary to enhance tourism, and what marketing strategies would be effective for promoting the area are discussed for each of the four areas.

The concluding section discusses how the ideas presented in the previous sections could be implemented. Recognizing that many agencies and organizations have a vested interest in the Mississippi River, the Great River Road, community development, and tourism, the study concludes by suggesting that two Stewardship
Organizations be formed. The first is one for each destination area. These would be locally controlled and reflect the interests and values of the community. It is suggested that these local Destination Area Stewardship Organizations could be developed from existing Destination Marketing Organizations supplemented by other stakeholders. It would be important that the local organization reflect both private and public sectors and their respective interests.


The second Stewardship Organization would be a state-level group. It was suggested that this group also reflect both private and public interests and be given sufficient human and capital resources to be effective in developing and promoting the Great River Road. It was suggested that transforming Minnesota’s Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC) may be an effective instrument for generating support for the Great River Road program. In particular it was suggested that the MRPC be reconstituted and renamed the Mississippi River Heritage Byway Commission of Minnesota. It is suggested that the when legislation reauthorizing the MRPC is presented at an upcoming legislative session, that the MRPC be reconstituted and given the authority and resources to implement this plan.


In particular, it is recommended that the Commissioners (or a high ranking agency staff member) of Economic Development, Transportation, Natural Resources, and the Director the Historical Society be made the core of the commission and charged with implementing the recommendations of this report and providing assistance to communities seeking to develop tourism along the Mississippi River and the Great River Road. It is recommended that a local representative involved in tourism development from each of the destination areas be placed on the board by the Governor and confirmed by the State Legislature to better foster local stewardship of the Mississippi Heritage Byway. To ensure legislative involvement, it is recommended that the commission also include four at-large members from the state legislature with constituency on the river, two from the House and two from the Senate.


It was also suggested that it maybe useful for the MRPC to attain status as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit or public-benefit corporation to enable it to attain grants from foundations and donations from concerned individuals.



Study Conclusions Marketing Recommendations


In conclusion, the report makes seven major recommendations involving the marketing of the Great River Road. The seven marketing recommendations are:




Capital Improvements


The report concludes with suggestions for five capital improvement programs. The five programs are:



Economic Implications

The Great River Road currently underperforms statewide averages for tourist spending. The median Great River Road party of 2.5 people only spent $6.00 per day on nonessential shopping or $2.40 per person per day. The opportunity for Great River Road tourists to contribute to local economies has not been realized. This outcome is not unexpected. Traditionally, only free public resources associated with Great River Road have been promoted. By partnering with the for-profit private sector in local destination areas, the amount of money spent by tourists on consumer articles could also be increased substantially.

In 1998, TravelScope, a national survey of tourist spending behavior, concluded that a tourist would spend approximately $32.00 per day in Minnesota. A 1998 Minnesota Office of Tourism Study concluded that residents spend approximately $43.00 as tourists and non-residents each spend approximately $50.00. With 2.5 people per traveling party, the Great River Road should be generating at least $80.00 per party per day for food, lodging, vehicular expenses, and shopping. It is not.
According to the survey (Question 68) conducted by Gartner Consulting, the median party was spending $69.00 per day for these essential travel items. At a minimum, average expenditures for essentials could be increased by over 16% with proper promotion.

If more was done to target out-of- state visitors, especially those in upper income brackets who may be attracted to Minnesota's reputation for pristine wilderness and clean cities, it may be possible to enhance this percentage increase dramatically. Similar efforts by other Minnesota Destination Areas in northern Minnesota, have increased the spending of the average tourist to approximately $53.00 per day. This would translate into $132.50 for each party traveling on the Great River Road—a fantastic 92% growth over current levels. Such an increase in economic activity would be substantial.



By implementing these recommendations and improving the administration of the Great River Road Program, the Minnesota Department of Transportation will be able to complete what it set out to do with this study: Create a Great River Road that enlivens communities and excites tourists.