Still a 'Great Place'

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As 'Ports of Discovery,' Marquette and McGregor area is re-designated

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Marquette and McGregor, as the collectively named “Ports of Discovery,” have been re-designated an Iowa Great Place by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

The news was announced last week, following months of work by a local committee to complete an updated application and vision plan for the area, which was originally designated a Great Place in 2008.

“It really was a team effort,” said Marquette City Clerk Bonnie Basemann, who was on the committee that included city officials and community members from Marquette and McGregor, as well as Clayton County Conservation Director Jenna Pollock and Mallory Hanson, regional tourism and economic development coordinator with Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development. “We divided up components of the application and, with help from Mallory, held some community meetings and did an online survey to create a vision plan that was adopted by both city councils.”

“We were already a Great Place, but it was quite a process going through the re-designation,” added McGregor Deputy City Clerk Duane Boelman, who was also part of the committee. “We evaluated where we want to be a few years down the road, and it’s always good to take the time to do that.”

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs designates communities as Iowa Great Places to support new and existing infrastructure that cultivates unique and authentic qualities of neighborhoods, communities and regions in Iowa. Overall, the state now recognizes 40 Iowa Great Places communities, re-designating 17 this year.

Boelman said the committee made the decision early on to re-designate Marquette and McGregor as “Ports of Discovery” because it made the two communities feel more like one.

“We liked the way it sounds,” he said, “rather than deciding between Marquette-McGregor or McGregor-Marquette, and putting one community ahead of the other.”

The two communities, along with Prairie du Chien, Wis., actually used the “Ports of Discovery” name for marketing quite a few years ago, Boelman noted.

“This really describes the area as one destination,” he said. “It’s good to think of it that way because so many people really don’t differentiate between the two anyway.”

The McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce has utilized “Ports of Discovery” in some of its latest promotions and encourages both locals and visitors to use #portsofdiscovery when sharing photos on social media.

According to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, since the original designation, Ports of Discovery has expanded enrichment programs for life on the river for both residents and visitors. The regional vision plan focuses on an interconnecting trail system, green space expansion, development and connectivity; river accessibility improvements; cultural and historic resource preservation and promotion; investments in housing, education and recreation; and recognition of local business owners and leaders.  The development of additional programs and investment in services that cater to residents and visitors has elevated the Ports of Discovery as an Iowa Great Place. 

With the re-designation, Basemann said the area is now eligible for grant funding for future improvements and projects.

“Last time, it helped build the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre,” in Marquette, she shared.

“It’s one of the few funding sources to do brick and mortar things—construction,” Boelman added.

Basemann anticipates the committee will re-convene soon to game plan and determine a project to pursue that would benefit both communities. Outdoor activity and recreation were key components of the visioning process, so she believes that could likely tie into a project.

“A lot of it was centered around trails and trying to be more connected,” she said.

Boelman said he’s enjoyed the opportunity for Marquette and McGregor to work together and strengthen their bond during this re-designation process.

“It’s important we support each other,” Basemann agreed. “We really are a Great Place.”

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