ST. CLOUD -- The Mississippi River is arguably one of America's most recognizable natural landmarks but it doesn't seem to get the respect it deserves in the St. Cloud area. One local group is out to change that.

Mississippi Partners is a volunteer group with members from St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, and Sartell who work to promote the river in their communities.

Chair David Leapaldt says the group is working to reverse the bad reputation the river has garnered over the years and that state efforts to clean up the river have been successful in the last decade.

"The Mississippi River runs through this community and there's nothing happening -- it's like it's something that gets in the way," Leapaldt says.

"We [should] take advantage of this terrific community asset...and use it for enjoyment, development, and recreation."

Leapaldt and others started the momentum to promote the Mississippi back in 2008 before forming Mississippi Partners in 2011.

"There was three-quarters of a billion dollars being invested within a mile of the river, but no real focus on the river itself," Leapaldt says.

"We started saying, 'OK, we need to take a look at this'."

Mississippi Partners works on promoting the river in four areas: active recreation, tourism, ecosystem, and urban development.

One of the group's plans is to build a river walk along 5th Avenue North in St. Cloud -- an area which they say has been left underdeveloped.

"We could [build] a boardwalk so pedestrians can meander and sit on benches overlooking the river, and we could rehabilitate the shoreline," says member David Laliberte.

"It'd be a grand place on the Mississippi River, people are already using it -- [we're] just making it better."

Leapaldt says he hopes to see the river get embraced by the community in the near future, possibly with riverside restaurants and recreation activities helping people to connect to the Mississippi.

"We'll have more going on on the river and more people using the river," Leapaldt says. "[We're working on] making that possible so more and more people can be connected to this river and we can use it as an economic engine for our area."

"When we start showing people what other communities have been able to do with the Mississippi River, they start hopping on board and saying 'we need that in St. Cloud'."

Leapaldt says Mississippi Partners is always looking for more help from volunteers and anyone interested in joining the cause can visit their website.

Photo Courtesy of Mississippi Partners
Photo Courtesy of Mississippi Partners