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Drought-lowered Mississippi River is taking a toll on regional tourism

Riverboats like this one are running less frequently on the Mississippi River due to low levels caused by drought.
Delta Queen Steamboat Company
Riverboats like this one are making infrequent visits to the recently opened port of Kimmswick, Missouri. Operators are canceling trips or scheduling visits to fewer cities due to the nearly historic low level of the Mississippi River.

The near-record low levelsof the Mississippi River are hurting more than shipping in the St. Louis region. They're also taking a toll on tourism.

Kimmswick, a city just south of St. Louis, experienced a major boost in tourism revenue in 2021, due to river tourism, but much of it has disappeared this year. Kimmswick opened its port to riverboats last year for the first time in 125 years, bringing hundreds of visitors who would spend a day in the city.

City leaders estimate those visitors would each spend close to $200 at local businesses. They say the impact went even further.

“Even when the boats are not here, it becomes known as a river city, where the riverboats land,” Kimmswick Mayor Phil Stang said. “And people come down and see the dock and look at where the riverboats have landed, look at pictures of the riverboats, and then they shop in the city.”

But drought conditions have lowered the Mississippi River in St. Louis to just six feet above its record low. Many riverboats have responded to the drought conditions by either canceling tours outright or making stops at fewer ports.

“In 2022, we were scheduled to have 13 boats land here. We’ve had four,” Stang said. “So, it’s had a severe impact on everything.

“We're really good at two major things that the city needs to be able to do, as it sits by the Mississippi,” explained the mayor. “We’re very good at flood fighting and very good at logistics [for large crowds of visitors]. Droughts, though? Not so much.”