Could Tall Stacks be dead in the water? While there has been little said lately about the Tristate’s most glorious “signature event,” that in itself is worrisome and unusual: That there’s been so little said.

While the Tall Stacks Commission has been stoically silent, a few members and former members have agreed to go on the record with Cincy Magazine, and the news isn’t good.

“At this point, it is likely two years away, assuming that the economy gets a little better,” reveals commission member and Channel 5 general manager Richard Dyer. “There is no firm date and no firm commitment or timetable.”

“Unofficially, we’re looking at 2011 because of the economy,” confirms BB Riverboats captain Alan Bernstein. “We just don’t feel there’ll be enough turnaround by 2010 for people to be willing to spend the money.”

All this is unfortunate news for an event that had become a Tristate staple. Tall Stacks, the world’s largest convocation of steamboats, first began in 1988 in celebration of Cincinnati’s Bicentennial, and returned as a mainstay over the course of the next two decades.

The most recent 2006 version included blockbuster entertainment, the likes of Al Green, Rosanne Cash, Wilco and Ricky Skaggs. More than a dozen paddle wheelers showed up, including the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen.

A public affairs spokesperson for the Midwest and Gulf region of the Coast Guard, which is charged with tracking river traffic during the massive paddle wheeler-palooza, agrees there is no plan for a Tall Stacks in the foreseeable future (meanwhile, this same official says the city of New Orleans has plans underway for its own riverboat and jazz music festival in 2010).

It’s certainly understandable that the Tall Stacks Commission is canceling the 2010 event due to a tough economy, tight tourism dollars and even tighter budgets at the corporate sponsorship level. It cannot be ignored that even in healthy economic years, Tall Stacks lost money (some $800,000 in 2006).

But there is a risk that we somehow might let this nautical wonder — Cincinnati’s own version of the Olympics — slip away in silence if there is no rallying cry to save it. Some have termed Tall Stacks the city’s defining event, and it’s certainly a franchise that put us on the national visitors’ map (Tall Stacks was once ranked the No. 1 tour destination by the American Bus Association).

To let New Orleans or some other port city run away with their own knock-off copy, while we sit on our hands and shrug, seems to be tourism suicide.

As Mark Twain — himself something of a riverboat buff — once lamented in his autobiography, “I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.”

If you would like to join in an effort to bring Tall Stacks back, we would like to hear from you (e-mail Publisher Eric Harmon at eharmon@cincymagazine.com). We believe Tall Stacks is worth fighting for.