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Tunica RiverPark promotes development with eco-tourism

TUNICA — When the new $23-million Tunica RiverPark opens this August, the Tunica area will have a more diverse and appealing tourism product that is expected to attract new visitors, while also enticing people who come to the area primarily to visit casinos to stay a little longer to enjoy the new attraction on the river.

“It broadens our appeal,” said Webster Franklin, executive director of the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau. “What we are doing is trying to diversify our tourism product that will allow people more things to do so they will stay longer, creating more jobs and tax revenues for the area. It is economic development.

“Tunica RiverPark will provide a one-of-a-kind interactive way to experience the Mighty Mississippi up close and understand the role the river has played in our national heritage. This will be the only place in Mississippi where you can actually get out and experience the river on a tour. We think the Tunica RiverPark itself will become a destination for people who are Mississippi River enthusiasts.”

Tunica, which is dubbed “The South’s Casino Capital,” was recently named one of 10 “up and coming destinations” by Travel Weekly, the travel industry’s leading newspaper. In its February 10 issue, Travel Weekly editors wrote in the article “The Next Big Thing” that Tunica is well on its way to becoming one of the nation’s premier destinations.”

Currently Tunica has three golf courses, and another is expected to open this summer. Factory outlet stores and antique shops are also popular with visitors, as is the big-name entertainment provided by the casinos.

Franklin said the Tunica RiverPark won’t just be an interpretive center. It will be a “river experience” that includes a trip on the Tunica Queen, a 120-foot paddle wheel boat that takes up to 400 passengers. The Tunica Queen will make four cruises per day: a coffee cruise, a lunch cruise, a river lore cruise and a dinner cruise. At night the boat will dock and be open for entertainment.

This will be the first and only Mississippi River riverboat operated in the state, Franklin said.

“You cannot go and get on a riverboat anywhere else in the state of Mississippi,” Franklin said. “The Mississippi River is the largest river in the world, and it is the thing most synonymous with our state. People are drawn to the river and they want to know about the river. The interpretive center is going to focus on the wildlife, the levee system and the economic impact the river has on the region. We will have four large aquariums where you can see the aquatic life of the river. And we will also have meeting rooms.”

According to American Rivers, the Mississippi River provides critical habitat for 40% of the nation’s migratory waterfowl and songbirds, and hosts the most ancient lineage of freshwater fish in North America. Overall, 241 different species of fish are found in the river. Other wildlife found on the Mississippi includes 50 species of mammals, 45 species of reptiles and amphibians and 37 species of mussels.

The Tunica Queen is expected to be particularly popular for opening night receptions for conventions being held in Tunica. The park is also expected to become a frequent stop for tour buses.

The Tunica RiverPark, which will include a museum interpretive center and outdoor attractions billed as an eco park, is being constructed by Tunica County, which also built and operates the Tunica Arena and Exposition Center. The county is also in the process of building the Tunica National Golf and Tennis Club. The new park adds to those other efforts to create economic development through tourism and entertainment offerings.

“This unique facility will give people the opportunity to experience the land between the levees as it exists between Cairo, Ill., and Baton Rouge, La.,” said Ken Murphree, Tunica County Administrator. “It is a powerful, beautiful eco park that will likely become one of the South’s best natural attractions.”

The state-of-the-art, 37,000-square-foot interpretive center will showcase the life of the river and its history. “Rising Tide” author John Barry is serving as a consultant on the project that is located on 168 acres of the river adjacent to Fitzgerald’s Casino and Hotel.

The Tunica RiverPark interpretive center overlooks a harbor carved out of the east bank of the river. The center will have a 48-foot observation platform, climate-controlled, closed-circuit viewing of wildlife in its natural environment, four large aquariums and interpretive exhibits focusing on the relationship between the Delta, its wildlife, the levee system and the economic impact of the river on the area.

There will be a marina and floating dock facility for paddlewheel excursion boats and a boat launch ramp for public use. Nearby there are horse and walking trails through 130 acres of forest with trails designed for minimum environmental impact.

Tunica, which is located a half hour south of Memphis, has about 15 million visitors per year to the nine area casino resorts that have about 6,300 hotel rooms and 40 restaurants. For more information, visit the Tunica Web site at www.tunicamiss.com or call Tunica at 1-888-4TUNICA.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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