Wisconsin Great River Road -- a look at the future2013 is the 75th anniversary of the Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC) and the National Great River Road.
By: Dennis Donath, Pierce County Herald
Wisconsin Mississippi River Parkway Commission
@t:2013 is the 75th anniversary of the Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC) and the National Great River Road.
In 1938, the MRPC was established by President Roosevelt, with representatives from the 10 bordering states along the Mississippi River charged to preserve, promote and enhance the scenic, historic and recreational resources of the Mississippi River.
As first envisioned, the road was to have been built on federally owned right-of-way along the river from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Rather than build a new continuous road, the commission decided to embrace the existing rural roads and network of highways meandering and crisscrossing the Mississippi River…together they would become the Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway. As a result, the concept of a federally owned right-of-way was abandoned, but the preservation of historic travel routes was still achieved.
Seventy-five years later, travelers along the Great River Road can still enjoy the scenic views, history and river towns much as they were in 1938. In 2012, a survey conducted by a national publication reported the Great River Road/National Scenic Byway was the prettiest drive in the United States.
Although much remains the same, there have been changes. The original routes have been adjusted to more closely follow the river. In Western Wisconsin, that change took place in 1981 and Hwy. 35 eventually became the route from Prescott to our southern border with Illinois.
Having the Great River Road on a state highway brings with it conveniences as well as challenges and conflicts. You might notice the absence of billboards on much of the Wisconsin GRR. That is generally considered a good thing.
Soon, construction of large electric transmission towers will be started along the GRR between Alma and La Crosse. The efficiency and reliability of the electric grid may be improved at the expense of the scenic qualities of that section of the road. Although the Wisconsin Mississippi River Parkway Commission was strongly opposed to having those transmission lines built along the road, it was a battle we couldn’t win.
For more please read the March 27 print version of the Herald.
Dennis Donath is a commissioner of the Wisconsin Mississippi River Parkway Commission