Gone are the days when the Mississippi River was just a shipping route and flood risk that happened to run through a city’s back yard. Increasingly, the legendary waterway is becoming recognized as a prized attraction, worthy of front-yard status. Here’s how a few communities are drawing attention to a natural feature they once shunned.

St. Paul, Minn.
The “mighty city on the Mississippi” is working toward a connected, thriving National Great River Park along its 17-mile riverfront, with residential areas, businesses, parkland, a public plaza, biking and walking trails, a light-rail line, and an interpretive center.

La Crosse, Wisc.
This one-time trading post at the confluence of the Mississippi, Black, and LaCrosse rivers maintains a healthy waterfront, with historic buildings, bike and walking paths on the riverway and levee, a riverside park, and an annual lineup of festivals in the riverfront area.

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Quad Cities (Moline, Ill.; Rock Island, Ill.; Davenport, Iowa; Bettendorf, Iowa)
When it comes to restoration, this Iowa-Illinois border area shines; in the only place where the Mississippi runs east to west, successful projects include mixed-use development, public art, riverfront trails, green space, and a water taxi that jets between the states.

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Hannibal, Mo.
The boyhood home of Mark Twain remains a popular tourist destination for its quaint feel, but its riverfront has seen better days. Just a short walk from the historic area, sinkholes, broken concrete, and barriers dominate. The city is now crafting a redevelopment plan.

Alton, Ill.
This small town at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers is a popular stop for sightseers and pie-eaters. With plans underway to build an amphitheater, public boat launch, promenade, and picnic areas, it hopes to become even more alluring.

Cape Girardeau, Mo.
The birthplace of Rush Limbaugh is a frequent stop for Mississippi River steamboat tours, with a revitalized Old Town area on the river, a riverfront park and 1,800-foot floodwall mural, and the just-opened River Campus of Southeast Missouri State University.

Vicksburg, Miss.
For the last five years, the people of this Civil War hotspot have rallied around a project to paint more than 30 murals on the city’s floodwall. The city recently showed its support for the project by building a new sidewalk to make the murals easier to access.

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Baton Rouge, La.
This stalwart of the southland is officially “Reconnecting to the River,” creating a series of parkland terraces and a floating wetlands exhibit; redeveloping a brickyard into a ballpark and mixed-used complex, and creating space for concerts, art shows, and other events.