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Mighty Miss a labor of love for River Action's Cornelius
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Photo: James Patrick Schmidt
Jeff Cornelius, program manager for River Action, speaks at a press conference announcing the Upper Mississippi River Conference in this file photo from 2008. The conference brought community leaders from all along the upper Mississippi together to discuss community management and to showcase the benefits of living on a river.
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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Jeff Cornelius, shown here at Floatzilla in August 2010, is program manager for River Action.
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Photo: Robert Leistra
Jeff Cornelius, who bikes to work on a regular basis, crosses the intersection of Main Street and 2nd Avenue in downtown Davenport in this file photo taken May 1, 2008.
DAVENPORT -- River Action program manager Jeff Cornelius believes he has the best job in the Quad-Cities.

Others think the 37-year-old's occupation is among the most important in the area.

"The Mississippi River is the No. 1 attraction in the area,'' said Joe Taylor, president/CEO of the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The communities along the river, the festivals, the trails, the casinos are a huge reason why tourists choose the Quad-Cities.

"River Action is a great organization. The professional side develops and markets the Mississippi River, while the production side creates fun programs that visitors enjoy. Jeff and his crew do a wonderful job. I would say, and not being biased, that we have the best communities along the river, and that is because of Jeff.''

Mr. Cornelius and the rest of the River Action staff have been behind many fun, community-centered events along the Mississippi.

Included in 2010 was Floatzilla, a Guinness world record-breaking attempt to floatila the most canoes and kayaks in unison. The August event drew 1,300 people and their vessels from 16 states.

Although the attempt came up 150 boats short of a record, participants such as Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba had a wonderful experience. Canoeing with Davenport 7th Ward alderman Barney Barnhill was a blast from the past for Mayor Gluba.

"Barney and I had canoes when we were younger, being born and raised in Davenport along the river,'' Mayor Gluba said. "So we really enjoyed paddling from (Davenport's) Credit Island over to (Rock Island's) Potter Lake."

Mr. Cornelius and River Action also are behind annually popular events such as Taming of the Slough (a tri-sport race), Ride the River (a family-oriented Father's Day cycling event) and the Senior Citizen Riverfront Golf Cart Tour.

"River Action's staff has put creative and innovative ideas together as a way of giving the community opportunities to utilize the river," Mayor Gluba said."I predict, if promoted as well as they have been, and getting backing from more sponsors, fun river events such as Floatzilla will grow into becoming the highlight of the summer months."

Mr. Cornelius' personal highlight is Taming of the Slough, which celebrated its fifth anniversary last September. The event demands of each participant two miles of kayaking/canoeing, two miles of hill climbing and off-road running and eight miles of mountain biking around the Mississippi's Sylvan Island.

" 'Taming' as an adventure race is something I hope to present as a challenge for people to do, and try something they otherwise would not,'' Mr. Cornelius said.

Participants of all levels also are invited to participate in Tune Up For Taming, four events held weeks in advance of the Mississippi River adventure. The tune-ups are a way for racers to utilize free canoes and kayaks from Princeton Outdoor Adventures and to ride the mountain bike course on Sylvan Island before race day.

Mr. Cornelius was reassured of how important those pre-race tune-ups are after the 2010 rain-and-mud bogged version of Taming.

"I had this group of women who came to tune up and pulled me aside, basically worried about the event; they had never done anything like it,'' Mr. Cornelius said."On race day a woman from the same group came up to me and showed me the 'warrior wound' she had received from falling on her mountain bike. She was so proud. I turned a beauty queen into a warrior. It was great.''

The Golf Cart Tour is heading into its 12th year in September, offering guided tours of the river to area seniors via the trails on both sides of the Mississippi.

"It's a great way for people to gain knowledge of the history of the Mississippi River locally as well as what the future holds,'' he said.

That's all in a day's work for Mr. Cornelius and River Action, whichis "dedicated to fostering the environmental, economic and cultural vitality of the Mississippi River and its riverfront in the Quad City region,'' acorrding to the nonprofit organization's mission statement.

"If not for the Mississippi River, I would not have a job here, and being naturally drawn to nature and water, I would most likely be on the East Coast doing kayaking or snorkeling tours," Mr. Cornelius said.

An advocate of environmentally friendly transportation, Mr. Cornelius is a member of Quad Cities Transportation Alternatives Group (QCTAG) and for most of his three years with River Action has commuted by bicycle from his home in East Moline to his office in Davenport. The trek is appropriately along the banks of the Mississippi.

"The Mississipi River means so many different things to so many people,'' Mr. Cornelius said. "To some, it is a source for industy and commerce. To others, the Mississippi River is a recreational destination, for everything from bald eagle and bird watching to canoeing or kayaking. It is also a place people are drawn to for its rich history.

"I (once) went to Montana on vacation to fly fish and the 'river' there looked like a creek. It was not as wide as our Mississippi. Lots of local people may take our grand history for granted and overlook its rich history.''

Mr. Cornelius grew up in Hampton, a friend of Living Lands & Waters founder and bio-warrior Chad Pregracke."We were a bunch of skate punks who used to spend our summers swimming, fishing, canoeing -- you know, boy fun -- along the Mississippi River,'' he said. "It was in my backyard. Now I want the river to be a place some day for my boys to enjoy.''








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