• Sun May 20 2007
  • Posted May 20, 2007
Mississippi River Trail could mean tourism dollars for community, area Many people in Phillips County - tourists and residents - see the same road sign in various spots of Helena - a bicycle above three letters, "MRT " - and are all left wondering the same question? What is MRT? Explaining that sign and the purpose of MRT - the Mississippi River Trail - to the Helena Rotary Club Wednesday was MRT Executive Director Terry Eastin. Eastin, a native of Quitman, was raised on her father's farm and, according to Munnie Jordan of Delta Heritage Tours, has a real desire to promote the MRT and use the trail to boost the economy of every community on it. As Eastin pointed out, there is money to be made from the trails, pointing out how one trail in Missouri has brought in more than $20 million from tourism alone. The MRT is a 3,100-mile trail designed for on-road and bike/pedestrian pathways for recreational enjoyment, health, conservation and tourism development of river communities, river states and the nation. Comprised of 10 states, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, the MRT was established in 1996 and has mushroomed with support from public and private groups. Starting near the beginning of the Mississippi River, the MRT begins at Itasca State Park on the edge of Lake Itasca in Minnesota. From there, it follows the river to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area before heading into Iowa and the Quad Cities. From there it winds its way through a number of cities in nine other states including St. Louis, Mo., Memphis, Helena, Vicksburg, Miss, Baton Rouge, La., and finally New Orleans where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. According to Eastin, 75 percent of the MRT has been marked with signs and now efforts are being made to heavily promote the trail and various stops along the trail to encourage tourism growth in those areas. "You are sitting on a gold mine," Eastin told the club members. "Right now, I'm working with Richard Davies of the state parks system to help him complete the Delta Heritage Trail. When that is complete it also will be a part of the MRT. That alone could bring in a lot of money into Helena and Phillips County." According to Eastin, she has had the opportunity to talk to a large number of European tourists visiting the state and came to one conclusion. "Some of the most fascinating things to visiting Europeans are the large farming equipment and catfish farming areas that are here in the Delta," she stated. "They have nothing like this, or the large cotton gins in Europe. So these things fascinate them." Managing the MRT is MRT, Inc., whose mission is to be a catalyst for the promotion and development of the Mississippi River Trail. Its three major goals include organizational development, route development - supporting transportation enhancement through community project planning and supporting funding of trail construction projects - and encouraging use. According to Eastin, last year tourists made a recorded 36 million trips to trail spots in Louisiana and southern Mississippi and spent $791 billion dollars there. "I see no reason why we can't see some of those tourist dollars come into the Arkansas section," Eastin stated. "It's my goal to try and get some of those tourist dollars to enter Arkansas and the Arkansas Delta." Another benefit of the MRT is what it can do for the health and fitness of the residents of the county. "Right now, Arkansas ranks No. 2 in heart disease and obesity," Eastin added. "A large percentage of the Mississippi River Trail covers the areas of the country where heart disease and obesity are highest in the country. If we can get people out and walking on those trails, that will go down as will the cost of healthcare with people walking more and living healthier lifestyles." In Arkansas, the MRT crosses the Mississippi River, moves along Cherry St. and makes its way down U.S. Highway 1 to Marianna. From there, it cuts through Hughes and West Memphis before crossing into Tennessee.

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