There’s something special about little Mississippi River towns. Guttenberg, Iowa, population 1,980, is one of those. It combines a new municipal marina with a number of attractions and points of interest, many of which honor its German heritage.
The marina is the result of a 10-year effort by the city to obtain private and public funding. One 18-month delay was due to having to manually transplant thousands of endangered Higgins Eye mussels from the proposed marina site to a location upstream. Finally dedicated in 2011, the marina is a protected harbor located at Upper Mississippi River Mile 614.5, RDB (right descending bank) just below Lock and Dam 10.
There are four personal watercraft slips, 37 seasonal slips and nine transient slips, including a 155-foot side dock for larger boats. With a normal water depth average of six feet, it has a pumpout, 30 and 50 amp electricity, and water. The marina center has restrooms, showers, vending and information areas, as well as WiFi access.
Fuel is available at Landing 615 just upstream, and there are launch ramps above and below Lock and Dam 10, including one right outside the marina.
Transient fees are $1.25 a foot based on slip size but decrease to $.85/foot for stays longer than a week. Holiday rates are higher, and reservations are always recommended. The hours of operation vary, but there’s a kiosk where transients can self-register during the season.
The facility itself is nice and new, and one of its major advantages is providing access for boaters to a variety of local attractions.
The city, nestled between limestone bluffs and the Mississippi River Valley, was named one of “America’s Prettiest Towns” by Forbes Traveler. It is also a nationally designated “Great Place to Live,” and much of its history is connected to the limestone and its German heritage.
There are several festivals in town, but the major event is the Guttenberg Germanfest in September, which is listed as one of the top events in Iowa. Scheduled for the 19th and 20th this year, the nationally recognized event has German dancing and clogging, German bands and music, a Wiener Dog Dash, a brat eating contest, a craft fair and open-air market, and of course, a biergarten.
To further honor the German ancestry, a facsimile copy of the Gutenberg Bible is on display. It is one of a two-volume set purchased in the 1940s from the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany. It is not one of the original Gutenberg Bibles, but is still considered a rare book. There is also a Gutenberg printing press replica on display at the Municipal Building.
A two-mile Riverwalk runs the length of the community and is complete with grills and shady spots to sit and watch the river and the Lock and Dam. Along the way is a Lock Master Museum and the Guttenberg Aquarium, which has a large selection of river fish as well as trout from nearby streams.
There are two National Register of Historic Districts and 12 individual properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A walking tour showcases 25 historic downtown buildings. Altogether, there are 54 properties that include numerous limestone buildings and pre-Civil War warehouses. One is a three-story stone warehouse adjacent to the marina that housed a pearl button factory. All these buildings represent the focal point of the town’s original German settlement and how its commercial past was tied to the river.
To honor another centuries-old practice, the city built a special 46-by-10-foot concrete wildlife ramp from the river to the shore. This helps facilitate an ancient turtle homing tradition. Each spring, the turtles leave the river in this area to find some grass or sand where they can bury their eggs. After hatching, the young then return to the river, perpetuating the cycle.
Unique retail shops, antique stores, casual restaurants or fine dining are all available, many of which are located along South River Street. Kann Imports has been an anchor for 67 years as curators of treasures from around the world.
Birders can wander through the nearby bottomland forest trail that loops through a natural wetland, and golfers can play nine holes on a course with river views.
RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — a seven-day, 465-mile ride from one side of the state the other — ends in Guttenberg this year on July 26th. It attracts about 10,000 bicyclists, and those who finish the ride will dip their front wheels into the Mississippi River. The town expects 20,000 visitors that day.
The bottom line: Guttenberg Municipal Marina has good accommodations for traveling boaters and offers even more for folks who enjoy exploring little river towns.
AT A GLANCE
Guttenberg Municipal Marina
502 South 1st Street
Guttenberg, Iowa 52052
Contact: Debbie at the Guttenberg City Office, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hours: Varies during season, May 1 until October 31; kiosk for self-registration on site
Fuel: None in marina but available just upstream at Landing 615
Slips: 4 personal watercraft, 37 seasonal, 9 transient; 155-foot parallel dock
Water depth: Six-foot average depth in the marina
Amenities: 30/50 amp electricity; water; ice; launch ramp; pumpout; restrooms; showers; vending; WiFi
Getting there by boat: The harbor is at UMRM 614.5, RDB, just downstream from Lock and Dam 10
Getting there by car: From north-south U.S. Highway 52, go east on Koerner Street to South River Park Drive, then north to the marina. Or, to get closer to the downtown businesses and National Register of Historic Districts, take Schiller Street east from U.S. 52 and then go south on South River Park Drive.