New Orleans Meeting- January 2011

Mississippi River Connections Collaborative Meeting Notes

January 12 & 13- New Orleans, Louisiana


As America’s great river, the Mighty Mississippi is an ecological lifeline to the nation, and a bellwether of the nation’s health in all aspects: physically, mentally, economically, socially, spiritually and environmentally.

From Lake Itasca, a small lake in Minnesota a hundred miles from the Canadian border, the Mississippi River drains 31 states and two Canadian provinces before ending its quest for the Gulf of Mexico. Its watershed, stretches from the Alleghenies to the Rocky Mountains. Its 500 tributaries—and its deltas, sloughs, kettle lakes, basins, and other offspring reach to within 250 miles of the Atlantic Ocean and 500 miles of the Pacific, making its drainage basin the second largest in the world. The entire length was studied on behalf of the Mississippi River Parkway Commission which recommended Heritage Corridor designation to Congress. No legislation ensued.

  60% of all North American birds (326 species) use the Mississippi River Basin as their migratory flyway;
  more than 12 million people live in the 125 counties and parishes that border the Mississippi River;
  the Mississippi River drains 41% of the contiguous United States and provides drinking water to more than 18 million people;
  there are 10 national parks, 8 national scenic and historic trails, and 32 national wildlife refuges and dozens of state parks that adjoin the Mississippi River.

Spring 2007, the National Park Service (NPS) and partners began to consider how they could collaborate to better serve communities and national parks along the Mississippi River.

October 2008, in St. Louis, MO, park superintendents in the Midwest and Southeast regions gathered with partners at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (JEFF) to explore how the Mississippi River connects their places and stories. Agreement was reached to promote completion of the Mississippi River Trail which connects the headwaters in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi in Louisiana and to pursue collaborative educational events and programs such as ParkPalooza.

The meeting was organized and facilitated by the NPS Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) from both the Midwest and Southeast regions with field offices located in Minnesota at MISS, Missouri at JEFF, Louisiana at JELA, and Mississippi located at GUIS. National and regional partners that participated in this meeting included Mississippi River Trail, Inc. (MRT), Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, US Army Corps of Engineers, Great Rivers Greenway District, Metro East Parks and Recreation District, Confluence Greenway, Metro and Jefferson National Parks Association. This meeting galvanized shared goals and interests and a commitment to meet again in 2009.

March 2009, in New Orleans, Louisiana, RTCA and MRT brought together a diverse group of management representatives from parks, trails and communities that adjoin the Mississippi River to share updates on broad-based partnerships and initiatives and to learn about other large landscape models for collaboration. In addition to 14 NPS representatives, national and regional partners that participated in this meeting included US Fish & Wildlife Service, Mississippi River Trail, Inc. (MRT), The Nature Conservancy, Friends of Lafitte Corridor, Louisiana State Parks, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Authority, Eastern National, New Orleans Regional Planning Commission, Mississippi River Parkway Commission and the National Park Foundation’s African American Experience fund.

At this meeting, participants learned insights related to partnership development from Coca Cola, Everglades Restoration Network, MRT and Chesapeake Bay Network. Participants agreed that the Collaborative should focus on getting people connected to the river and should work towards a long term vision to treat the river as a national treasure. The river is the focus, and the Collaborative will use partner missions to connect people to the river in various ways such as the Mississippi River Trail system, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, parks, refuges, and the Great River Road.

Meeting participants self appointed work groups and agreed to collaborate on a set of four priority focus areas:

  Strategic Planning;
  Political Savvy & Legislation;
  Communications & Branding, and;
  Information & Navigation.

The Strategic Plan Work Group would convene to develop a strategic plan and revisit the current MOU for others to sign on.

The Political Savvy & Legislation Work Group would assist the Collaborative in becoming better informed about current and impending legislation on the river and would explore whether it makes sense to pursue a designation or authority to support the work of the Collaborative.

The Communications & Branding Work Group would assist the Collaborative in creating a “brand” that reflects the River as America’s heart and soul.

Information & Navigation Work Group would assist the Collaborative in developing and promoting navigation to support understanding, appreciation and use of the river. This work group would define next steps for developing, maintaining and housing an information database related to collaborative efforts all along the Mississippi River.

October 2009, Collaborative partners met in Minneapolis, MN, in a workshop environment to establish a strategic framework and engage in fun and meaningful ways that promote a culture of collaboration and exchange. Meeting participants developed a common understanding on how the Collaborative intends to organize around a strategic plan framework, a Memorandum of Understanding and working groups.

January 2011, partners met in New Orleans, LA where the collaborative process was solidified as meeting participants representing NPS, USFWS, MRT, American Hiking Society, Confluence Greenways and many other local agencies and organizations, reviewed the signed Memorandum of Understanding, reviewed and reached agreement on the final draft of the MRCC Strategic Plan and mapped out ways to accomplish the Operational Plan for the MRCC by redefining the priority focus areas to:

  Political Savvy and Legislation
  Communications, Information and Navigation
  Special Projects and Opportunities

The following is a brief meeting summary from the January 2011 meeting.

Actions and Agreements- Next Steps for MRCC

  Strategic Plan will be updated by Kathleen and the entire group will review and agree on final plan via email by Mid-March.
  The USACE will be invited to join MRCC by letter to General Walsh signed and sent by Senator Briggs Hopson of Mississippi on behalf of MRT.
  Northern USFWS/NPS partners will talk/exchange ideas in next few weeks.
  All MRCC will assist one another with upcoming events.
  MRCC will coordinate with American Hiking Society/National Trails Day related to events up and down the Mississippi River.
  Focus Area Working Groups will:
          Put timeline on agreed upon tasks
          Meet/call with in 2 months
          Report back to group
  Meeting notes and focus area choices will be emailed to primary group by mid-February 2011.
  Outreach article will be prepared by Paul/Terry/Steve for publishing in the following: One Interior, Inside NPS, USFWS Newsletter, MRT Newsletter, Park Tips, RTCA outlets
  All MRCC partners will meet again (face to face) during late summer 2011.
  MRCC Core Leadership Team will meet: Tues., February 22, 2011, 10:00am CST

Next Meeting

  Although all partners are very clear about restricted travel budgets and future funding, all agree that in order for the MRCC to build on the momentum and excellent work that it has already accomplished, it is critical that partners meet face to face at least once a year.
  MRCC partners will meet again (face to face) during late summer 2011. Location will be determined.
  Reference: Aug 21, National Scenic Byways and other conference in MN.
  Core Leadership Team may call on partners to assist with planning and logistics.
  Desired Outcomes:
          Review and build on accomplishments of the Operational Plan.
          Incorporate new partners into Operational Plan framework.
          Celebrate successes, inspire more success.

Value of Mississippi River Connections Collaborative Meeting

At the opening of the meeting, participants where asked what value they saw in the MRCC. The following bulleted notes where collected during this discussion. There may be some redundancy in the bulleted list, as all answers were recorded and included.

  Opportunity to build on existing partnerships
  Opportunity to leverage resources and expertise to advance partner goals & those of the collaborative
  Learn from the experiences of others
  Connecting for the purpose of a greater impact
  Physical programmatic connections all along the river
  Avoid duplication of services, there is power in numbers
  The purpose of reducing redundancy (how can we share project models)
  Make good ideas better
  Promote health and awareness of our environment along the Mississippi River (Together We Can!)
  Activate and renew the love and celebration of the Mississippi River
  We should attempt to fill in the gaps and not view the Mississippi River as a dividing line
  There should be a facilitation of events and projects in the corridor
  Build collaborations for active transportation and revitalization
  Pulling all of the great opportunities on the river together
  Strengthening and learning the common missions among group
  Sharing successes
  Pooling all knowledge together
  Sharing educational resources; cross training for multiple divisions; speak with one voice
  Develop a unified vision
  Collaboration with the group should help us all reach our respective goals
  To see how all the other collaborative groups work and flow together with this larger group
  Opportunity to enhance Mississippi River Park Refugees & MRT as a national treasure, there is strength in numbers.
  Connects diverse communities
  Sharing of resources
  Stronger voice for education/encouragement of our resources use and protection. Stronger push for consistent efforts
  Communication of new ideas
  Sharing ways to connect communities to the river
  Higher profile for all; better results from each
  To leverage a partnership for the betterment of all

MRCC Memorandum of Understanding

Meeting participants reviewed the Memorandum of Understanding and agreed that the document should provide for additional signatories as new partners become involved with the MRCC.

MRCC Strategic Plan

Meeting participants reviewed the final draft of the MRCC Strategic Plan and provided comments. The document will be updated, reviewed by entire group and agreed upon via email by Mid-March.

Recommended Updates to Strategic Plan:

  Change “development” in Mission statement.
  Include “connections” more, especially physical ties (MRT, GRR).
  Add “active transportation” to “recreation and river access”.
  Add references to key urban areas (New Orleans, St. Louis, Minneapolis).
  Add river dynamic (wet/dry cycles).
  Add habitat support for fish & wildlife.
  Add coming and going of populations.

Mississippi River Trail Incorporated Strategic Plan, How it Fits!

Mississippi River Trail presented the organization’s newly adopted five year strategic plan and associated Operational Plan in Session 1. MRT board members unanimously adopted the new plan on January 10th, and will be taking steps to begin implementation immediately.

The MRT plan is closely aligned with the MRCC strategic plan as a means to provide additional focus and impact new opportunities rapidly as a lead partner in the MRCC.

MRT Focus items include:

  Organizational Development
          Strategic Planning
          Political Savvy and Legislation
          Communications and Branding
  Route Development
          Route Analysis and Development Support
          Route Development Political Savvy and Legislation
          Trail Mapping and Way-finding
  Encouraging Use
          Promotion and Marketing
          Information Source

To obtain a copy of MRT’s plans, please contact terry at

Operations Plan & Selection of Core Leadership Team

Meeting participants reviewed and discussed the draft MRCC Operational Plan which will serve as the framework for action throughout each year. Agreement was reached regarding tasks of the Core Leadership Team and who would serve on this team. Participants also provided recommendations regarding how RTCA could best support the MRCC.

Tasks of Core Team

  Plan and coordinate at least one annual meeting.
  Keep things moving for entire collaborative, ensure follow-through of tasks, maintain momentum.
  Keep collaborative members informed.
  Designate who does what, keeping task list.
  Keeping notes, group memory.
  Hash out details for larger group, take back to the group for approval.
  How core group relates to subgroups related to action items (in focus areas).
  Can we develop other focus area groups to focus on other area topics? Should one person from each focus area group be part of the core group? This is very important for the communication component.
  Review and update the strategic plan.
  Should branding be a task?

Core Leadership Team
National Park Service:
Paul Labowitz, Superintendent, Mississippi National River & Recreation Area
Kathleen Jenkins, Superintendent, Natchez National Historical Park

US Fish & Wildlife Service:
Steve Gard, Project Leader, Northern Mississippi Refuges Complex
Kevin Forester, Refuge Manager, Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and Refuge Supervisor, Region 3

Mississippi River Trail, Inc.:
Terry Eastin, Executive Director
Bill Waters, Board Member

National Park Service – Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program:
Liz Smith-Incer, Mississippi Field Office Director
Rory Robinson, Ohio Field Office Director

Recommended Role of RTCA in MRCC
This discussion is meant to better define how RTCA can better work with the Collaborative. Below are ideas generated during discussion:

  Staff the MRCC
  Advising, planning, facilitating
  Note taking/document keeper of memory
  Coordination of conference calls/face to face meetings
  Plan and coordinate at least one annual meeting
  Keep things moving for entire collaborative, ensure follow-through of tasks, maintain momentum
  Keep collaborative members informed
  Designate who does what, keeping task list
  Facilitate collaboration
  Assist MRCC in engaging communities
  Define where MRCC can best serve communities
  Assist with publications
  Share information with networks outside of the MRCC

Crawdad Catching Summaries- DevelopIng Action Plan

Meeting participants met in small groups focused on one of the following areas:

  Political Savvy and Legislation
  Communications, Information and Navigation
  Special Projects and Opportunities
  The following is the list of items discussed within each small group.

Political Savvy and Legislation
Focus Area Leader: Paul Labovitz

  Pay attention to Regional & Federal Transportation Bill.
  Define our role in educating folks about changes in transportation bill.
  Create a list of conservation & recreation organizations (League of American Bicylists, Conservation Fund, American Hiking Society, etc.)
  Create a list of Mississippi River Congressional Staffers/Caucuses/Committees. Build relationships and create opportunities for updates and “one on one” time.
  Is there a functioning MS River caucus and can it be energized?
  Create a list of Federal/State/Local organizations.
  Identify the legislative authorities under which federal agencies operate and their limitations.
  Define role and opportunities for “Friends Groups”.
  Define responsibilities/privileges for NGOs in MRCC.
  How do we communicate?
          Who collects and distributes? (Could be MRT or some combination)
          What info do we need?
          How do we filter info?
          Large scale? How Web-based?
          Who distills & acts
          Potential sources for legislative information
          Federal parks/Recreation newsletter
          American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO),
          Legislative Tracking Service
          Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association (MICRA), publishes River Crossings, a national newsletter on riverine ecology, conservation and management 
  Proactive outreach to legislature.
  Define our communication strategy and our role(s).
  Define a message that captures the entire package.
  Are there opportunities to develop “Apps” related to MRCC.
  Develop a Long Range plan for political savvy and legislative outreach – define the need and where are we going.
  Geez … it’s about the river.

Communications, Information and Navigation
Focus Area Leader: Steve Gard

  communications to collaborative members
  communication to public may just be using collaborative member current avenues
  creates less work

#s don’t equal success:
One time visits may not be success
What’s the target of our communication?

Internal Communication (between NPS & USFWS)

  meet a couple times per year
  put logos together on publications
  Bus wraps, connect social media
  Show that we’re not duplicating, save resources
  How does MRCC communicate to all members? Maybe more of depository where people go a will? (listserv, what?)
  BIG RIVER magazine is one example of collaborated publication, explores the Mississippi River from the Twin Cities to Davenport, Iowa, entertaining and informing readers all along the way.
  The Arrowhead, National Park Service newspaper

External Communication:

  Do we really need the public to identify MRCC as another group?
  Maybe there’s a tab on an existing website that describes MRCC – targeted to potential /existing MRCC members.
  We do need to have some place (web presence) that shows agency collaboration, good for fundraising/budget allocations
  Need to communicate to “higher ups” in government agencies
  Public/private partnership – how do we communicate this model to the politicians?
  No to printed and electronic mailing lists
  More interested in submitting to existing publications
  Two options – use most current info and user friendly
          you can visit site, maybe a fan page on facebook, share point, NINC network
          Listserv, email sent to you
          Both need flexibility to opt in or out
  Send out everyone’s contact information after meetings
  Don’t develop new website, create tab on MRT’s website with links, mission, etc.

Special Projects and Opportunities
Focus Area Leader: Kathleen Jenkins & Terry Eastin

  Story Corps – NPR, Could they park in Parks or Refuges to capture stories along river
  Groups that do festivals, example: “AEG” live, runs big festivals
  How to engage a famous face to promote the Mississippi River, Green Cross International has lots of stars as board members.
  Canoe trails
  Passport idea
  Parkway commission has suggested itineraries, could MRCC do this, “packaged for experience”, Scenic byways has great suggested itineraries.
  Headwaters to gulf could be a bucket list goal.
  Upper Mississippi River water trails are on website

Funding Focus Area Discussion

Meeting participants brainstormed the below list potential funding opportunities for projects related to the MRCC:

  National Park Foundation
  Park/Refuge Friends Groups
  US Army Corps of Engineers-Planning Assistance to states
  Trust for Public Lands
  Sarbanes Transit in the parks
  State Trail Funding
  Refuge Roads $ (USFWS)
  Park Roads and Trails (NPS)
  Reservation Roads (BIA) – Gaming Revenue
  National Scenic Byway Discretionary Grant Program (DOT)
  Economic Development Administration
  Urban Park & Recreation Recovery Program
  EPA Brownfields Assessment and Remediation
  Recreational Trails Program (DOT)
  Transportation Enhancement Program (DOT)
  Land and Water Conservation Grants (NPS)
  NOAA Coastal Estuarine Land Conservation Program
  Housing & Urban Development
  Community Development Block Grants
  Economic Development Initiative
  Historic Preservation Groups & Grants
  Major Corporations: Target, REI, Cargill, 3M, John Deere, Shell, Burlington, AAMCO,   Best Buy, Cabellas, LL. Bean, Coca Cola
  AmBev (American Beverage)
  Lower MS Delta Region Initiative
  State Tourism Department
  Kellogg Foundation
  Public Utilities
  Walden Foundation
  Blue Cross Blue Shield/ Health Care
  Ducks Unlimited
  Wenonah Canoes/other manufactures
  Robert Wood Johnson
  McDonalds Restaurants Corporation
  Boating Infrastructure Grants
  Congressional Earmarks
  US Attorney EPA
  Center for Disease Control
  Department of Justice

First Day Recap & Follow up Thoughts Worth Considering

  Think about: America’s Great Outdoors
  How MRCC will reach benchmarks?
          MRT could serve as calendar keeper
          MRCC link on all websites that would hold calendar info
  Canoe from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico
  List magazines/publications that we’d send MRCC press releases to
  USFWS/NPS offer information about both in shared brochure.
  All refuges and Parks could link to MRT using “National Trails Day” celebration.
  America’s Great River Adventure
  Clarify/define common theme of MRCC communication.

Regional Collaboration Time

During this time meeting participants met in two groups according to where they are located on the river, Midwest (MN, WI, IL, IA, MO) and Southeast (AR, LA, MS, TN, KY). Within the small groups, they discussed specific opportunities about how they could better collaborate by share sites, resources, etc.

Upper River Talk
Discussion led by Paul Labovitz

  Inventory existing events
  Chad’s clean-ups
  “Move” Events to NTD (National Trails Day)
  Lots of National Days!
  Trails & Rails
  NTD Event Cooperation
  Top to Bottom Canoe
  Dan McGuiness!
  Big River & Reggie
  La Crosse Magazine
  Getting people to/on river (our role in facilitating this)
  New media: I-phone App
  Trails in every Classroom
  After school programs
  Exchange opportunities
  Serving in between communities
  MRT – Land & Water connections
  Make the connections
  Confluence project in STL
  MSP – Quad – STL
  Challenging stretches of river? How?
  Great River Road – MRPC
  Our role in packaging experiences
  Who are we reaching and what kind of communication do we use?
  How do we make people care?
  More than one shot, ongoing connection
  Need to serve everyone not just urban
  Get in schools/families
  Events calendar and available resources.

Lower River Talk
Discussion led by Steve Gard

  Move the existing exhibit to various locations and events along the river. It presently is sitting in storage.
  Host public events/meetings, on the river, such as on a sandbar.
  Organize boat rides on the river for the public and congressional staff.
  Help each other with existing projects and events. Provide staff, exhibits, etc.
  Participate in the NPS Trails and Rails program. Provide interpreters on Amtrack.
  Try to get the USACE to let us use their large boat for events/programs on the river.
  Organize a specific trip along the river for congressional staff of each state (bus, vehicle or boat).
  Develop a “canned program” which could be used by all of civic groups etc.
  Develop a single brochure of public lands, trails and river access for the Collaborative to use in home stations.
  Inventory existing events, to help each other with, and coordinate resources which could be shared.

New Opportunities & New Partners

Below is a list of meeting participants who provided information on their organizations and how they might collaborate with MRCC:

  American Hiking Society
          Greg Miller, Executive Director, introduced MRCC participants to the organization & opportunities to highlight National Trails Days all along Mississippi River. National Trails Day: Saturday, June 4, 2011, with the theme of “Made with all Natural Ingredients”.
  Mississippi River Parkway Commission
          John Sheahan, Tennessee Chairperson, introduced the mission of the MRPC to the group and expressed great interest in continued collaboration. Mission: Preserving, promoting and enhancing the Mississippi River Parkway for communities and travelers
  New Orleans Regional Planning Commission
          Dan Jatres introduced folks to the Louisiana Mississippi River Trail Feasibility Study.
  Trailnet/Confluence Greenways
          Jennifer Allen, Healthy & Active Communities Coordinator, introduced Trailnet’s mission of fostering healthy and active communities through innovative programs, planning, and policy that promote walking and bicycling throughout the St. Louis bi-state region.
  Great Rivers Greenway District
          Todd Antoine, provided good example of how regional initiatives work. Mission: work for a clean, green, connected St. Louis region by spearheading the development of “The River Ring”, an interconnected system of greenways, parks and trails that will encircle the St. Louis region, enhancing the quality of life for residents and visitors.

Meeting Evaluation


  Very encouraging meeting
  Best facilitation
  Meatiest meeting
  Great design on nametags and folders
  Length just about right (1 ½ to 2 days good)
  Breakouts good
  Good group response/involvement


  Know deliverables ahead of time
  Confirm final itinerary before meeting date
  Be more precise on agenda times
  Need projector screen
  Need windows
  Outdoor temperature was cool
  Need to connect with River during the meeting
  Would’ve been good to have name cards on table
  Make names bigger on name tags
  Provide free internet access at place of lodging and during meeting
  Hard to see different color markers at back of room