It's best viewed from high atop the blustery crown of a bluff: the pristine blue of the St. Croix River melding with the brownish expanse of the Mississippi on its way south to New Orleans, a vibrant junction of soaring eagles, determined towboats and stunning scenery.
The confluence of the two rivers has been attracting people since draining glaciers created it as they carved their way through 10 millennia ago. Making sure it stays an attractive region is one goal of the Great Rivers Confluence Project.
The project -- it's not a formal organization -- is an effort to link agencies and organizations along all banks that share an interest in the two rivers, said Margaret Smith, executive director of the Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center in Prescott, Wis.
The project will play host to a symposium Friday, when its website with an interactive map of the region will be launched. It also will include a comprehensive regional calendar of events for visitors.
The project does not attempt to duplicate work already being done, Smith said, but to get parties to look at the region surrounding the confluence -- bound by the cities of Afton and Hastings in Minnesota and Prescott and River Falls in Wisconsin -- in a more holistic way.
"Towns are really not used to looking at this region together," Smith said.
The confluence area includes not only two national parks -- the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway -- but also the Great River Road, one of the nation's great scenic routes; the Mississippi River Trail for bikes; the National Scenic Byway and the Audubon Great River Birding Trail, along with state and regional parks.
The effort is complicated because the region straddles two states and includes four cities, four counties and government agencies from local to federal levels. The one thing held in common is an interest in protecting and making the most of a valuable natural asset.
Peter Mott, Washington County's parks manager for planning, said the project has been valuable in the early stages of planning two trails, one from the confluence north to Afton and another linking Prescott and Hastings on an abandoned rail line.
An immediate goal of the project is to rally support to complete missing links in the region's trail systems.
"The coordination and cooperation between neighbors from different states for projects like this is surprisingly challenging," said Mott.
Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039