Sunday, April 22, 2007

Riverside hopes that Star Trek will boost economy

Iowa town eyes future with Star Trek’s Kirk
Riverside dubs itself birthplace of famed captain, hopes tourists flock in
Reuters
Updated: 2:02 p.m. ET April 20, 2007

RIVERSIDE, Iowa - A small Iowa town is trying to lure tourists by going where no town has gone before — forward 200 years in time to be the birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk from cult science fiction show “Star Trek.”

Welcome to Riverside, a once prosperous little farming town with a population of 928 that has fallen on hard times, wants to attract tourists and much needed money with a “Star Trek” museum to revive its largely lifeless, boarded-up main drag.

The town has no famous offspring like West Branch, 25 miles away, where former U.S. President Herbert Hoover was born in 1874, and can’t boast the “World’s Largest Strawberry,” a 15 feet high fiberglass fruit, like Strawberry Point, 100 miles to the north.

So former town councilor and self-declared “Trekkie” Steve Miller in 1985 persuaded the council to declare Riverside the future birthplace as Kirk, a main character of the “Star Trek” television series that began in 1966 and following films.

“Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wrote a book saying Kirk will be born in Iowa, but didn’t say where,” said Miller. ”So I thought ’why not here?”’

Kirk’s birthday was never officially established but the town lists it on a plaque as March 22, 2228. The show’s official Web site, however, says he was born on March 22, 2233. Canadian actor William Shatner who played the captain of the starship Enterprise was born in real-life on March 22.

The future famous son has brought a trickle of tourist money to the town 15 miles south of Iowa City in eastern Iowa but some locals now hope to raise funds for a Star Trek museum to boost that income while enough people remember Kirk.

Life, but not as we know it
“I’m no Trekkie, but Captain Kirk is good for drawing visitors and Riverside needs plenty of those,” said local businessman Ken Wilkinson.

Roddenberry has not objected to the town claiming Kirk, so locals erected a plaque on a site of his birth.

At local bar Murphy’s, a plaque states Kirk was “conceived at this point” — hanging on the wall instead of its original spot under the pool table.

“Regulars got a kick out of seeing Star Trek fans crawl under there to look, but it seemed kind of cruel,” said Becky Laroche, who works at People’s Bank, the town’s only bank.

Riverside has also hosted an annual “Trek Fest” in June every year since 1985, drawing up to 10,000 visitors a year. Apart from a parade and tractor pull, Trek fans can buy glass bottles of “Kirk Dirt” — earth from his birth site — for $10.

But beyond the two plaques, Riverside’s only other Star Trek attraction is a model spacecraft similar to the Enterprise, which is small enough to be pulled behind a car.

Riverside’s part-time Mayor Bill Poch wants a Star Trek museum to attract tourists and retailers to its main street. “If we can get people to come stop here and spend a little money, maybe we can revive our downtown,” he said.

Miller said if Riverside is going to propose an enduring Star Trek memorial, it better do it soon. It’s been 40 years since Star Trek and most youngsters have never seen it,” he said. “Time is running out.”

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