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Flood - and Misperception - Hurt Midwest Tourism

July 26, 1993

AMANA, Iowa (AP) _ In German colonies nearly 140 years old, where beer is freshly brewed, furniture is handmade and sauerkraut is a staple, the flood has robbed dollars from Iowa’s top tourist destination.

But the villain is misperception, not water.

″It doesn’t help when they say on TV that Iowa is one of the Great Lakes, even if it’s only in jest,″ said Suzanne Webster, standing behind the counter at empty Blackbird Pottery.

″This is the season where you have to make money to get through the winter,″ said owner Leanne Spacek. ″Well, this is like winter. ... It’s no fun to come to work.″

There’s no denying that Midwest floods have spoiled recreation along the Mississippi River and its rain-swollen tributaries. Boat cruises are prohibited, for example, and bridge detours can add 100 miles to a Eastern visitor’s trip to Mark Twain’s home in Hannibal, Mo.

But elsewhere, all is not lost. Merchants and tourism promoters are fighting the impression that anything in the Heartland means waist-deep water and no toilets.

″People call and ask if the Arch is under water. It’s 630 feet high 3/8″ said Nancy Milton, spokeswoman at the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission. ″People hear that animals have been evacuated. The zoo is six miles″ from the Mississippi.

″It’s become urban legend, not reality,″ she said.

In Amana, a string of rural villages 70 miles west of the Mississippi, there are no sandbags surrounding Ox Yoke Inn, Rawson’s Bed & Breakfast, Millstream Brewing Co., or Tick Tock Antiques.

The Iowa River has only flooded the tiny airport and, at times, a few roads leading into the area. Still, it’s hardly life as usual.

Parking spaces are easy to find and the narrow sidewalks are comfortable. The 85 businesses that belong to Amana’s visitors bureau have so far lost an estimated $3 million.

At the 600-seat Ox Yoke Inn, where customers usually wait two hours for a German dinner, prices have been slashed 20 percent and the extra summer help is working only on weekends. The breakfast buffet is off the menu.

″We had 300 for dinner Friday night,″ said hostess Kathy Perkins. ″That’s nothing; we can do that blindfolded.″

Joanie Cuzick, a Californian in town on a business trip, had believed the entire state was a mess before she arrived.

″When I told my associates I was going to Iowa, they said, ‘Take a boat and get some waders,’ ″ she said, sipping a beer at the Millstream brewery. ″Amana is a popular place. This is a shame.″

A statistic from a nearby rest area on Interstate 80 is telling: Only 2,900 gallons of water have been used each day, down from the usual 9,000, said Mary Lou Blomme, who distributes travel pamphlets at the site.

Amana is planning a fresh advertising blitz in a 400-mile radius. Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and St. Louis tourism officials are involved in similar efforts.

Tourism is worth $2.7 billion in Iowa, $7.8 billion in Missouri and $15 billion in Illinois.

″We just have to rally,″ said Illinois tourism chief Donna Shaw.

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