RSDP Happenings - Focus on International Tourism
By Angelica Getahun
The largest public green space in North America - approximately 5.5 million acres - remains in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Ontario. The land includes national and state parks such as Quetico Provincial Park, Superior National Forest, Voyageurs National Park and Grand Portage National Monument, as well as several small and medium size communities.
To improve collaboration between the two countries and to develop cross-border partnerships, locals created the Heart of the Continent Partnership (HOCP) in 2007. As part of its mission to promote sustainable tourism, the University of Minnesota Extension Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (NERSDP) provided early financial resources to HOCP. NERSDP board member Doug Franchot of International Falls has also served as chair of the HOCP Steering Committee.
HOCP is a Canadian/American coalition between land managers and key local stakeholders. Their goal is to "promote the economic, cultural and natural health of the lakes, forests and communities on the Ontario/Minnesota border." One big project that the organization is working on is the National Geographic Geotourism initiative. National Geographic defines geotourism as "tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place - its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents." This initiative is promoting the cross-border region as a tourist destination.
Communities throughout the region identified and nominated state and national parks, museums, businesses, and yearly events that highlighted the environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage of the area and could be promoted on the National Geographic Geotourism website (traveltheheart.org).
As Norm Deschampe, Chair of the Grand Portage Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, said at HOCP's 2011 International Community Congress, "This is not about us, it's about those who come after us."
More than 80 different leaders in the region have worked collaboratively to make this initiative come to fruition. Frank Jewell, County Commissioner of St. Louis and chair of the geotourism initiative, said, "A huge part of what goes on in northeast Minnesota in particular, but to some extent in Canada, is that there is a certain amount of complaint about public land... In Cook County 90% of all the land is in public ownership, both by the state and by the federal government. So you have a very small property tax base - only 10% of the land. The kind of feeling that [the community has is] 'they are not bringing to us the resources that we need.' This initiative in some ways is about turning that around. Seeing the public land as an asset [where] we bring these vibrant communities [to the forefront]."
Frank and other members of HOCP traveled throughout northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Ontario to learn more about these communities and invite them to become part of the initiative. "The thing that was more striking to me and really powerful about this was that across the region, the landscape is dotted with lots of little towns. They don't have a lot of resources, they aren't really seen beyond their neighborhood, even though they are remarkable places ... so going to these towns and inviting them to participate, people were often surprised and excited about the possibility," he said.
"The National Geographic Geotourism project has given us real credibility and real excitement around tourism in the region," said Okey Ukaga, NMSDP executive director. "HOCP continues to be a successful effort that is reframing the land in northeast Minnesota as an asset and promotes the activities, sites and culture the region has to offer."