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Extension > Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships > Northeast > Sustainable Gateway Communities Initiative

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Sustainable Gateway Communities Initiative


To build stronger economic, social, and environmental connections between communities and their neighboring public lands for mutual benefit. The project's geographic area spans the international border between northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Ontario, and includes more than 5.5 million acres of public lands.


University of Minnesota partners:

Community partners:


A planning group was developed to lay the ground work and provide the catalyst for a successful four day Congress. Called the 'Design Team', this group met at least monthly and had as its primary purpose to plan, prepare, and host the International Community Congress.

The Design Team embodied the diversity of interests that would later take part within the teams accepted to attend Congress.  The design team membership includes managers of the major public entities in the area, including:

Leaders of several friends groups including:

Tribal Interests including:

Tourism organizations including:

The Design team contracted with the Conservation Leadership Network of the Conservation Fund, Shepherdstown WV, to facilitate the planning and implementation of the Congress.

Background note: The Conservation Fund's 2006 workshop, "Balancing Nature and Commerce in Communities that Neighbor Public Lands," was the turning point in the relationship between the community of International Falls, Koochiching County and Voyageurs National Park. The success of that workshop in transforming the tone of the conversation in that community has been a key inspiration in launching the Sustainable Gateway Communities Initiative with the goal of replicating that success with other communities and land managers throughout the Heart of the Continent region.

The Design Team, in collaboration with the Conservation Fund and community members, had monthly (and near the end weekly) conference calls and in-person meetings to:


In October 2011, over 90 community leaders from Minnesota and Ontario, gathered to develop strategies for creating sustainable economies and promoting interest in public lands at the International Community Congress. Ten community teams - four from Minnesota, three from Ontario, and three from Minnesota/Ontario - participated in this innovative and collaborative international workshop that focused on communities that neighbor public lands. Two Nations - One Region was the common thread at the Heart of the Continent Partnership's International Community Congress: Balancing Nature and Commerce in Communities that Neighbor Public Lands along the Minnesota and Ontario Border.

Kris Hoellen from The Conservation Leadership Network of The Conservation Fund facilitated the four day workshop, which occurred in Thunder Bay, Ontario and Grand Portage, Minnesota. Throughout the four days participants heard from a mix of guest speakers and completed team exercises that led to an action plan.

The workshop setting, with a focus on team exercises, led each group to develop a take- home action plan. Ten teams included individuals from the National Parks, National Forest, Ontario Provincial Parks, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, county commissioners, a Tribal Chairman, city and township elected officials, a university chancellor, a former member of Canadian Parliament, a mining executive, and a number of small business, environmental groups, motor users, and non-profit organizations. The ten teams are:

Each team developed a new initiative to launch, and the HOCP steering committee will provide ongoing support as teams now implement their new initiatives, which include the following: The New City of Ranier team is going to develop a community map that highlights opportunities for visitors. The Destination Voyageurs National Park team is going to develop a marketing plan. 

One international team - Connecting Volunteers to the Heart of the Continent - focused on developing a website clearing house for volunteer opportunities throughout the Heart of the Continent area. Other action plans included developing a web app for tourists; connecting Duluth and Thunder Bay, sister cities using the Scenic Drive as a focal point; developing a "path of the paddle" trail; re-opening a local park; organizing a familiarization tour around the Heart of the Continent; connecting people to the land; and developing a history trail.



Leveraged resources

$127,388 (not including in-kind work)

Last updated 11-7-2011
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