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And statistics show the bottom-line benefits of geotourism, Eastin said. A 2010 survey found that geotourists stay longer and spend more at their destinations when compared to non-geotourists: 8.2 nights compared to 5.9 nights, and $1,163 vs. $644.
Though the geotourism concept is in the early planning stage, initial local response has been positive.
“Love it, love it — it’s a perfect fit for us,” said Terry Mattson, president and CEO of Visit St. Paul and the RiverCentre Authority, the city’s tourism promotion agency. “The Mississippi River is a big part of the St. Paul brand. It puts the focus on one of the greatest rivers in the world.”
The river is St. Paul’s connection to the natural world, and the geotourism model plays right into that, he said. “If you’re out canoeing or kayaking on the river, you think you’re in the middle of the wilderness. That’s unique, and it’s special to St. Paul.”
The plan has been discussed over the past couple of months by the Minnesota Mississippi River Parkway Commission. Developing tourism along the state’s 575-mile portion of the Great River Road is one of its chief tasks.
“It has a lot of potential, but it would have to be done right,” said state Rep. Sheldon Johnson, DFL-St. Paul, the commission chairman. The big question, Johnson said, is funding. Minnesota’s contribution would likely come from a variety of private sources, and possibly some public money in the mix, perhaps from the Legacy Amendment fund.
Fundraising, and selling the benefits of geotourism along the Mississippi River, are the focal points for Eastin and Dion. The immediate goal is to raise at least $900,000 over two years, Dion said.
“It’s all about branding the Mississippi River as the national icon that it is,” Eastin said. “I think it’s about the best thing we could do.”
Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson