Great River Road – March 2017 – History and explanation

  • Post last modified:January 28, 2022

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The Great River Road (GRR) is not just one road. It’s a series of roads that each state designates as part of the GRR. The Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC) began in 1938 to oversee the river. The commission assumed the role to preserve, promote, and enhance the scenic, historic, and recreational assets. This organization provides Great River Road History and explanation. (The GRR posts will be updated in the future. Someday!) Scroll down a bit for links to all the other posts!

Great River Road
Mississippi River near LaCrosse WI. In the snow-Day 1

More Mississippi River information

Each of the 10 states participates in the work of the MRPC as well as having their own association. Some are more active than others. Every state but Louisiana has signs indicating the road is part of the GRR. The roads can be federal, state or local.   Here is a link to the Great River Road Association including representatives from all states on the route.

The Mississippi River Country, USA (MRC) formed in 1986. It’s mission;  to utilize global awareness of the Mississippi River and market the 10 states along the river. That role became both domestic and to countries throughout the world. The road does attract many international visitors. The tourism offices in all 10 states participate in this activity. Again, all of these organizations provide Great River Road History and Explanation.

Mississippi River Beginnings

The GRR starts at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota where the mighty Mississippi begins it’s 2320 mile flow to the Gulf of Mexico. Through much of MN, the road runs on one side of the river or the other. When the river reaches Wisconsin, the road becomes an east road and a west road. When the river flows into the part of Louisiana where it is no longer between two states, the road goes back to running on just one side or the other. US highway 61 is part of the road in several states. I believe the longest stretch of federal highways on the GRR is Highway 61. 

Picture of the source of the river as it flows out of Lake Itasca. (Actually, it is a “picture of a picture” taken in a River Museum in Dubuque IA.)

More Mississippi River information

My trip in March of 2017 started at I-694 in the northern Twin Cities and continued to Natchez MS. The part of the trip from Minneapolis to Natchez occurred in March of 2017. I completed the MN portion in July of 2018. However, the Louisiana and Mississippi portion south of Natchez still waits for an opportune time

Great River Road trivia:

  1. Minneapolis – St. Paul metropolitan area is the largest city on the river
  2. There are over 3000 miles of road when considering the road on both sides of the river
  3. The widest spot on the river is Lake Pepin on the MN and WI border. It is formed by a natural dam created where the Wisconsin River joins the Mississippi and deposits silt, soil and debris. Lake Pepin is 2.5 miles wide at it’s widest point.
  4. Around the Quad Cities in Iowa and Illinois, the river runs east/west for about 30 miles.
  5. All of the GRR is contained the land obtained from France in the Louisiana Purchase
  6. There are about 27 Lock and Dam combinations between Minneapolis and St. Louis to control the flow of water. 
  7. During the Civil War, battles were fought on the river. The Union built iron clad gun boats to control the Mississippi through the Confederate territory to control shipping and to separate the confederacy. The Siege and the consequent Battle of Vicksburg is commemorated by a National Park. The battle occurred in this area. The term Brown Water Navy originated here. Later it meant any Navy action on rivers that were muddy and eventually to nearly all river fighting. (By the way, is there really a CIVIL war??!!!)
  8. Of the 10 states, 8 of them are on either the east or the west side. Minnesota and Louisiana have part of the river within their boundaries. The only 2 states with land on both sides of the river.

Closing the trip (so far)!

Thanks for reading about the Great River Road History and Explanation. And please submit a comment if you would like to know more about the Great River Road and the Mississippi River. By the way, I’m still trying to schedule a time to do the south end. But, so many trips, so little time!

“Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan

Oh, God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe said, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God said, “No” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want, Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’, you better run”
Well, Abe said, “Where d’you want this killin’ done?”
God said, “Out on Highway 61”

Written by: Bob Dylan
(Of course, I need to find an excuse to include a Dylan song! And Highway 61 makes up several large sections of the “road”.)

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