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From the earliest times that humans walked on the North American continent, the waterway has been a cultural corridor, conveying people, goods and ideas from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River.
It became a strategic water route in the European struggle to gain a foothold in the New World. The importance of this connection has been known to the people for millennia and has shaped the way that people interact with and think about the river. It’s 12,000-year history speaks to the interaction with people and their rivers.
In many ways, the Parkway’s stories are little different from those of other American rivers. It shares with other regions stories of native peoples, fur trade, exploration, transportation, hunting and fishing, early settlement, the development of industry, water and electrical power, the growth of the recreation industry, the reclamation of the waterfront, and our changing views of water as a resource. These stories define our place within the pageant of American history, enhance citizens’ ownership of their language, and strengthen pride of place.
We know that the history of any local place can be interpreted to reflect the story of the nation as a whole, and that we can gain an understanding of broad patterns of United States history and culture when we place our own stories within a wider context. Our stories help us find and appreciate our place in the continuum of American history, and speak to the roots that have made us what we are today. They help us understand who we have been, and who we may become.