Showcasing the River

New and improved Mud Island River Park celebrates 30th anniversary

By Sarah Baker

Leading up to Mud Island River Park’s 30th anniversary celebration, changes have been made everywhere from its logo to its concert series and even upgrades in areas that were damaged during last May’s Mississippi River flood.

Visitors walk along the curves of the river walk at Mud Island River Park, which will open to the public April 14.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

After weeks of event planning, sprucing up the grounds, and hiring and training new staff, opening day for the 52-acre park is Saturday, April 14.

The first event will be the Rock n’ Romp, a kid-friendly backyard party with local musicians. Other activities include a Kids Katch Youth Fishing Experience, several opportunities to Sleep Out on the Mississippi and a Civil War Sesquicentennial Event.

Before the official start to the season, Mud Island has already booked and sold tickets for four concerts in the Amphitheater – Wilco (May 19), Funk Fest (June 15-16), Norah Jones (June 22), and James Taylor (July 15), which is sold out.

“This is the first time in Riverfront Development Corp.’s 11-year history of managing the Park that we’ve announced shows this early,” said Mud Island River Park’s general manager Trey Giuntini. “And already all three Saturdays in April have events scheduled. We’re hitting on all cylinders from day one.”

Last year, the park tallied 140,000 visitors despite being closed completely for two weeks in May. About 65 percent of that total was made up of tourists and 35 percent was local visitation.

“This is great considering that when RDC took over management of the park, the visitation averaged about 80 percent tourist and 20 percent local,” Giuntini said. “One of our goals was to increase local visitation at the park. Special events and concerts help to drive this visitation and this season will be no different. Juxtapose James Taylor in July with the Funk Fest in June and you start to see the diversity.”

Giuntini said one of the most challenging aspects of his job over the years has been to adequately promote each aspect of the park.

“If I only managed one aspect of this park, I could create an entire marketing campaign and have that area shine on its own merits,” Giuntini said. “Tourists love the Mississippi River Museum and the Riverwalk model. For the first-time visitor, the museum, Riverwalk and monorail offer one of the most unique experiences in the world. For the local visitor, special events and concerts bring them to the island. Then, we have a good number of people that canoe, kayak or ride bikes. Thousands of people each year attend an event at one of our banquet facilities.”

One way Mud Island River Park touts its attractions is through social media. It’s a campaign that was started about two years ago in efforts to interact with its audience and provide immediate answers.

“Websites years ago proved to be the best means of getting information, especially detailed information, about our facility into the hands of the public,” Giuntini said. “Today, although still very important, websites can seem too static for the generation of smartphone and tablet users. Social sites such as Facebook and Twitter help us stay in touch and present events, facts and other information in a moment’s notice.”

Visitors follow the curves of Mud Island River Park’s Mississippi River model.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

While permanent exhibits at the museum will basically remain unchanged, the park will add traveling exhibits throughout the season. Improvements to the park this year include upgrades to the Riverwalk kiosk and picnic area, concession areas and Amphitheater restrooms.

New awnings will be installed at River Terrace and in other locations throughout the park, and Gulfport Grill has been completely renovated and will open for the first time since being closed due to flood damage.

Mud Island’s logo is also different. The park has incorporated the 30th anniversary into its design to remind everyone that it’s been bringing families to the river for three decades.

“The Mississippi River is woven into the fabric of America. It has been a major force in shaping the land and people of this country,” Giuntini said. “We have people from all over the world come to Memphis to learn about and experience the mighty Mississippi River. This park was built as a recreational, educational and entertainment facility that showcases America’s greatest waterway and we have this wonderful attraction here in Memphis.”