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A Mississippi River National Historic Trail?

August 2, 2016Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on A Mississippi River National Historic Trail?

This article on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail raises the question of what a Mississippi River National Historic Trail might encompass:

  • route(s) associated with explorer/colonizers?
  • route(s) associated with the movements of ideas and culture, such as jazz and the blues?
  • route(s) associated with movements of “natural” resources such as fish or bird migrations, particular habitats, etc.?

The Twin Cities, of course, is home to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, but that is only a 72-mile stretch of the Mississippi’s 2500 mile +/- length.  Other regional efforts are achieving notable successes, but many people and organizations still have a dream of “One Big River Collaboration.” The Chesapeake model is water-based, and has a strong thematic and historical grounding, both excellent starting points for Mississippi River work.

That dream may simply be too big for the whole river, except as a virtual connector through some sort of expanded, linked mapping effort.  The Chesapeake folks, though, could be a good model or starting point for broader, integrated thinking.  There seem to be two elements of that program, in particular, that are salutary for Mississippi River work: The Chesapeake program is broadly based in partnerships, even to the point where the web presence breaks out of the NPS web template.  Secondly, and more important, the presence of indigenous people both historically and continuing into the present, is an inescapable part of the overall vision and mission of the site.  Indeed, the Chesapeake Trail has been the site of inaugural planning and designation of “indigenous cultural landscapes,” sites that “evoke the natural and cultural resources that support American Indian lifeways and settlement patterns” throughout the Bay.

The National Park Service is justly proud of its record over the first century of its existence.  Here’s something to start on for the second century.

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