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Several people gather at the Point Pleasant riverfront to see the Delta Queen during what could be it's last stop there.

Photography drones could be as thick as a swarm of gnats next summer or the year after if the Delta Queen really does resume overnight cruises on America's rivers in 2020.

The question is, can Huntington capitalize on the Delta Queen's return after an absence of a dozen years?

Huntington is a frequent stop for cruise boats traveling the Ohio. The American Duchess was in town last week, and the American Queen also was here earlier this month. The other overnight passenger vessel on the Ohio, the Queen of the Mississippi, has stopped here.

Those stops allow passengers to tour area attractions and spend their money here. Last week, Richard Bryant, chief mate on the American Duchess, told The Herald-Dispatch writer Amanda Larch that he always visits Paula Vega Cakes on 9th Street and buys cupcakes for people in the wheelhouse.

It's that kind of attraction, along with museums such as Heritage Farm, that make Huntington a stop for the new overnight passenger boats. Judging from the people who go to the park to see them, they are always welcome here.

But it's the Delta Queen that will the big draw. While not technically an old-style Mississippi River-type steamboat - it started service in California and came east in the 1940s - the Delta Queen has that air of nostalgia and luxury that the newer boats emulate.

Her last trip down the Ohio past Huntington came in the fall of 2008 as its exemption from federal safety standards was about to end. The standards were written to protect lives at sea, but the Delta Queen was given exemptions every few years until 2008. It operated as a hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee, from 2009 through 2014. Its future had been up in the air from then until Dec. 4, 2018, when President Donald Trump signed into law an exemption from the standards applying to ocean-going vessels.

A few weeks ago, the boat's new owners, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., announced an itinerary was being developed and the Delta Queen will sail again. The company says it will offer cruises of three to 10 nights throughout the Mississippi River and its tributaries starting next year following its multi-million dollar refurbishing. Improvements include new boilers and safety upgrades.

But will people at Harris Riverfront Park hear the calliope again? That is the unanswered question.

Kelsey Chastain of Waterhouse Public Relations, which represents the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., said next year's itinerary is still being developed. The company is using the schedule from the boat's final voyage in 2008 and making changes to that, she said.

"Within the next couple of months, they'll probably be able to announce the itinerary," Chastain said.

Huntington will have competition for the limited number of stops on the Delta Queen's itinerary. Other passenger vessels stop frequently at Maysville, Kentucky, Marietta, Ohio, and Point Pleasant, West Virginia, on their trips between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Its centennial cruises in 2027 will be a special opportunity to bring visitors to Huntington and give local residents something to celebrate.

Just the presence of the Delta Queen passing through on its way to Pittsburgh or Cincinnati will bring people to the river to get pictures. Getting the boat to stop here for a day, as the others do, will bring people and their money into town and give Huntington another thing to sell as a place worth visiting.

And, just as important, it will give local people the opportunity to get up close to one of the few mobile registered national historic landmarks. What's not to like?

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