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Exploring the Mississippi River just got more hip

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A new geotourism project aims to revolutionize the way visitors plan trips up and down the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River Sustainable Destinations Initiative is rolling out new interactive maps, apps, social media platforms – and paper maps – over the next two years.

The idea is to link all 10 states bordering the river so tourists from around the world can visit a single website to plan trips themed around things like historic sites, parks or food, the Star Tribune reports.

Jim Dion, of the National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations, says the project will conform to the National Geographic principles of geotourism.

They include sustainability, environmental stewardship and an emphasis on a city's particular culture, history and locally owned businesses over tourist traps.

“I think people that are traveling don’t care what county they are in. They don’t care what state they are in,” Dion told the Memphis Daily News.

“They want to have an experience. They are interested in history or culture, whatever aspect of a place.”

He says the Mississippi's path through culturally diverse regions of the country make it ideal for this kind of geotourism.

Terry Eastin, board member of the Mississippi River Connections Collaborative, told the Star Tribune geotourism gives people a chance to understand what the Mississippi River is about — whether their interests are in museums, food or parks and wildlife refuges.

“It’s not for the Holiday Inns … but it is for those micro-, small and medium-sized businesses that really portray what America is all about,” she said.

The Star Tribune reports on a 2010 survey that found geotourists stay longer and spend more at their destinations when compared to non-geotourists: 8.2 nights compared to 5.9 nights, and $1,163 vs. $644.

“Love it, love it — it’s a perfect fit for us,” said Terry Mattson, president and CEO of Visit St. Paul and the RiverCentre Authority, the city’s tourism promotion agency.

“The Mississippi River is a big part of the St. Paul brand. It puts the focus on one of the greatest rivers in the world.”

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