Vavras take over Marquette marina

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Robert Vavra, with dog Willow, in front of the Marquette marina, which he and wife Deb recently purchased. It will also be home to his Maiden Voyage tour boat. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Robert Vavra was hard at work on the Marquette marina last week, readying he and wife Deb’s latest business venture for the summer season. The purchase of the marina became official in early May, as the Vavras took ownership from Casino Queen Marquette.

One of Robert’s first orders of business was improving the ramp, making it easier for people to access his Maiden Voyage tour boat, which will now call the community home.

“It’s nice to have a home I can put my time and energy into,” he remarked. “To bring this together with the tour boat will really help me and the area.”

Robert is no stranger to the Mississippi River. As a child, he grew up along the river in Harpers Ferry, and, following high school, worked on it, commercial fishing, clamming and trapping.

“But I could see that ‘day’ was leaving the river,” he said.

So, he ran a bar/restaurant in Harpers Ferry for 12 years, during which time he got married and started a family. Robert and Deb eventually sold the business and took the opportunity to buy Andy Mountain Campgrounds, near Harpers Ferry, which they continue to own today. Deb also started working at Cabela’s, in Prairie du Chien. However, the river still called to Robert.

“I wanted to make a living on the Mississippi River,” he said.

Thirteen years ago, that desire led him to become a certified captain and purchase a tour boat in Norfolk, Va., which he moved to the Mississippi River and operated out of McGregor.

Several years ago, Robert got a new boat. With space for 49 people, it’s become a popular attraction for everything from bachelorette parties and family reunions to Boy Scout troops and nursing home groups. Between 5,000 to 7,000 tourists flock to it each summer and fall, taking one of Robert’s river tours, where he highlights river history, local wildlife, points of interest and more.

“I love introducing people to the Mississippi River and its history,” he said.

He’s one of few on the river who offers eco tours like this.

“From St. Louis to Winona, there’s me,” he noted. “I’m the last small working boat, the last little excursion boat that goes into the backwaters.”

In addition to updating the ramp, Robert said other immediate plans for the Marquette marina include changing the slip arrangement and redoing the pump and filter system to assure the marina has quality gasoline. He will also help the city with the no wake buoys, slowing down boat traffic and increasing safety in area waters.

These updates, paired with the location, will, hopefully, draw more people to his tours, the marina and the Mar-Mac area, Robert said.

“I’m always trying to be community-minded. I want to showcase the Mississippi River out of the McGregor-Marquette area and bring bus tours in,” he shared. “Every little spoke helps in that tourism wheel, and I want to help be a spoke in the wheel.”

Starting May 23 and running through Oct. 20, Robert will offer 1.5-hour Maiden Voyage river boat tours every Wednesday through Friday at 11 a.m. and every Saturday and Sunday at both 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. On June 1, his popular Friday night music cruises will begin, leaving the dock at 7 p.m. through Aug. 17, then at 6 p.m. Aug. 24 to Sept. 14. Learn more at

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