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Mississippi River paddleboat could be giving tours again next year

LA CROSSE - One of the last cruise-boats on the Mississippi River could be paddling tourists again in western Wisconsin as early as next year.

A group called “Save the Julia Belle Swain” says it has raised enough to buy the boat, and put it on display in La Crosse while it raises a million-dollars to refurbish it. John Desmond, who chairs the non-profit group, expects the boat to be upgraded this winter, and go back on the water next year.

The Julia Belle Swain was built in 1971, and it carried tourists in Iowa and Illinois before Bob Kallhagen purchased it in 1994. He ran tours between Prairie du Chien and Winona from 1995-2008, when the Great Recession did his business in. The new group says it could include the previous boundaries in its new tours. The Julia Belle Swain is designed like the stern-wheel paddle boats that ran on the Mississippi River over 130 years ago.