Monday, April 11, 2011

Touching the Missouri River

There were several speakers at the ribbon-cutting Friday, but the one who made the most hay from his time before the microphone was Mayor John Landwehr, who reminded the audience of the importance of the river to Jefferson City.

Using Woody Guthrie’s “This land is your land, this land is my land” as a theme, he spoke of our common interest in the Missouri River and asserted that by reaching out and “touching” the river, Jeff City will join Hermann, Washington, Little Rock, Memphis, Wichita, and Ottumwa as cities that “learned how to touch their rivers.”

Coastal cities have the ocean; mountain cities have their peaks; and we have our river: We can use its enduring scenic and historic nature as a way to gain tourism revenue and a stronger sense of identity. Landwehr suggested that, as we cross the new pedestrian/bicycle bridge, we think of our connections to the river.

And he spoke of the importance of the Adrian Island project in beautifying and vitalizing the city.

If you’ve ever been to Mud Island in Memphis, you have some idea of what Adrian Island—now just a huge sandbar thick with weedy bottomland trees—could become, albeit on a much smaller scale. Or you could look at Hermann, New Haven, or Washington’s waterfront parks, which are incredibly pleasant places to have a picnic—I know, because I have picnicked at each of them, on food purchased at restaurants in those towns.

Here is a view of Jeff City taken from the new bicycle/pedestrian path attached to the Missouri River Bridge. I've circled Adrian Island for your reference.

The idea of building a tunnel under the railroad tracks to provide access to the island is controversial for a number of reasons (that usually come down to money), but the idea of developing the area as some kind of city park is one that’s long, long overdue. We’ve got a historic and attractive downtown, and a spectacular Capitol, but no way to “enjoy” a view of the river except for a simple MDC boat ramp on the opposite bank.

Surely there’s a way to work with the railroad to provide access to that land without endangering pedestrians or infringing on the trains’ ability to come and go.

Indeed, I find the coming-and-going of trains almost as fun to watch as the river! How about an adjoining train or transportation museum? Perhaps some of this could even benefit the railroad.

Little ol’ Cooper’s Landing, up at Easley, offers better ways to enjoy the river than the capital city.

And although I’m beginning to see that many Jefferson Citians have a grudge against Columbia, where “anything goes,” I’m also concluding that a lot of that is just jealousy. If Columbia were located right on the Missouri, you know there’d be a lovely waterfront park, lots of great restaurants nearby, shopping, and so on. I mean, look what they did with the Flat Branch, which, when I was a kid, was nothing but a trashy ol’ drainage ditch.

Columbia's longtime, recently retired mayor, Darwin Hindman, was at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and it was great to see him and outgoing Jefferson City mayor Landwehr chatting together as they began to ascend the new bicycle/pedestrian ramp. Both of these leaders understand the importance of quality of life in a town. I'm afraid I'm going to miss both of them quite a bit. I hope they stay involved.

Now, this is just my two cents. I’m not an economist or a developer, but I can speak as a resident and consumer, and I just know there’s a way for Jeff City to use its proximity to the river to our advantage. My fear is that our city is too pessimistic, reactionary, and inflexible to move forward, and that we will be the last river town in the United States to do so.

. . . But my hope is that that isn't the case.

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