As general manager of Mud Island River Park since 2001, Trey Giuntini oversees a multipurpose entertainment facility that literally binds the Bluff City to its most distinguishing geographic feature. Now 26 years old, the park continues to find new ways to keep visitors smiling.
What originally drew you to work at Mud Island?
My original goal was to graduate from the University of Memphis with a degree that would allow me to teach either geography or English on a secondary or university level. I applied for a part-time position at the Mississippi River Museum. It didn't take long to realize that a museum, especially a museum that focused on a river, offered the best of both worlds. I could research history, write interpretive programs, and still educate visitors of all ages. A museum with a 52-acre river park is the greatest classroom I could have.
It's not mud, and it's not an island. Do people ever ask you about the name?
People ask about the name almost every day. It is one of the most common questions that we get at the park.
What's your favorite feature of the park?
The Mississippi River Museum — a world-class 18-gallery museum of the natural and cultural history of the Lower Mississippi River Valley. It is not a "Memphis history" specific museum; instead it encompasses an area from Cairo, Illinois, to the Gulf of Mexico. Where else can you step on board a full-sized replica of the front third of an 1870s steamboat or Union ironclad gunboat?
What about the most popular feature?
The local audience loves the amphitheatre. Let's face it; there isn't a bad seat in the house and what better place to see a show than having the river rolling along behind you and the gorgeous Memphis skyline in front of you while a great act performs on stage? On the other hand, when it comes to the tourist audience, the Riverwalk model is certainly the most popular. It truly is one of the most unique pieces of architecture in the world. People come here from all over to see the Mississippi in miniature. We have had groups visit from China, Japan, Germany, and probably a dozen United States cities wanting to build what we have at Mud Island River Park.
It's the River Museum. We are competing with virtual tours and entertainment from a variety of sources including theme parks, theatres, and portable media devices. Stopping to enjoy a cultural attraction is a hard sell in today's world. Many people visit the park, walk the Riverwalk, and then realize there is a museum to see. Most of the time, they don't allow enough time to visit the museum before they have to leave.
It's been said that 75 percent of Mud Island's visitors are tourists. How do you draw more Memphians to the park?
Today, you and your family can pack a picnic lunch, drive onto the island, walk to a picnic area, enjoy the Riverwalk and the gorgeous park setting, and it is completely free. We want Memphians to understand that this is their river park just as Tom Lee, Greenbelt, Crump, Jefferson Davis, Martyrs, or any other is. We actually have more to offer than these other parks because we have concessions, restrooms, shops, and attractions for them to see and use as well.
Has anyone ever taken a canoe or kayak out, only to get caught by Ol' Man River?
We only allow people to paddle in the Wolf River Harbor and not in the main channel of the Mississippi. Only one time has anyone gone beyond the harbor boundary. We had an international group that was not very skilled at kayaking and their English was not the best. Despite repeated instructions showing them where they could go and where they could not go, they went south to the mouth of the harbor where the current quickly pushed them into the bank on the south end of Tom Lee Park. We were able to drive to the park, pull them off the bank, and there were no injuries at all. They left smiling about the ordeal. We give all renters a two-way radio where we can stay in constant contact with them.
What does the park still need?
Soon there won't be a break between our entrance and residential developments [at the north end of Mud Island]. [This] makes it more imperative that we rethink and retool our facility. The good news is that the Riverfront Development Corporation is working on this master plan and they are continuing to have a positive impact on the park.