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A marina for St. Louis? A Mississippi River enthusiast makes the case

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Dean Klinkenberg
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Dean Klinkenberg argues that even a small-scale floating marina like this one in Kimmswick, Missouri, can serve as a welcome mat to recreational boaters.

There are 21 marinas along the Mississippi River from St. Charles County to Alton, Illinois — but not one on the shores of the city of St. Louis. Dean Klinkenberg thinks that’s a mistake. In a NextSTL.com essay titled “St. Louis Deserves a Marina,” the mystery novelist and travel writer argues the city is missing out on recreational boaters and wrongly ceding water access to industry.

A longtime Mississippi River enthusiast, Klinkenberg knows many people will be skeptical. But, he said, many of the arguments against marinas fail to account for no-frills marinas that can adapt to changing water levels.

The marina in Kimmswick provides a great example. “You take a couple of barges, just strap them together and you put some gas pumps and maybe a little store on there,” Klinkenberg explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “Then those barges can float with the river and rise and fall as the river does.” If major flooding is predicted, he noted, you can even tow them away before it hits.

The bigger argument, then, might be the dangers of the Mississippi. Thanks to extensive dredging beginning in the 1930s, the channel is much faster than in the days Samuel Clemens worked on it. Thanks to that engineering, St. Louis is now the third-busiest inland port in the U.S. — and hazards are not limited to swift currents.

“A marina on the Mississippi is a bad idea,” Bob Criss, a professor emeritus of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University, wrote in an email. “Dangerous collisions are inevitable.”

Listen to St. Louis on the Air's discussion with Dean Klinkenberg

However, Klinkenberg — and a number of callers to the show — noted that the area near downtown already sees a surprising amount of recreational traffic. A caller named Melissa said she is a seasonal park ranger at the Gateway Arch National Park and sees boaters on the river all summer long. They simply have no easy way to dock.

“You see yachts — giant white, beautiful yachts — kayakers, canoeists, all types of vehicles, and they're always pulling up there on the levee,” she said. “Or they just bypass downtown.”

And Klinkenberg thinks we’re foolish to accept the idea that just because the river is one way now it always must stay that way. He hopes his essay serves as a wakeup call to consider the possibilities of reimagining the Mississippi’s flow.

Said Klinkenberg: “I think what’s easy to forget is that channel through St. Louis was engineered to be narrow and fast. It's not the way the river channel naturally was. And if we can engineer it to be narrow and fast, we can re-engineer it to be more accommodating to a wider range of uses.”

Klinkenberg’s latest NextSTL.com essay is about paddling down the Mississippi in a canoe. He wants more people to pay attention to the river on the city’s edge.

“It's amazing how wild the spaces can be, especially when you get just a little bit away from the city,” he said. “You don't have to go very far to find wildlife, thousands of birds and peace and quiet. It's a tremendous resource and experience in our own backyard, and I wish we spent more time appreciating it.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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