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Wolf Ridge to partner with National Geographic

Ken Vogel

Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center is teaming up with National Geographic. The collaboration is part of the Heart of the Continent Partnership, a larger geo-tourism initiative that will include a map and a web site.

Heart of the Continent Partnership is a coalition of land managers and stake holders from the United States and Canada working together along with the Nat Geo Society to all aspects of the communities in northeastern Minnesota and southwestern Ontario – think the Superior National Forest, Quetico Provincial Park, BWCAW, Isle Royale and the Grand Portage National Monument.

The partnership was founded in 2007 without political agenda – its goal is to sustain and celebrate the 5.5 million-acre region, described as the largest expanse of public green space in North America, while staying out of sometimes contentious political conversations.

“This is about economics and tourism. We will be able to communicate the value of this area through the mass communications of NGS,” said Pete Smerud Executive Director at Wolf Ridge, who is also a member of the team designing the website and maps.

Geotourism is travel that positively impacts the character of a place. Tapping into the NGS’s international reach, the partnership will hopefully make the Arrowhead’s assets more globally known.

“This is truly a partnership designed to enhance economic development and tourism to the region. It is really exciting,” said project co-leader Doug Franchot of Heart of the Continent Partnership. “The vast exposure that NGS brings to the table has us very excited about the program,” he said.

The first step in the process was to raise needed funds to get the website up and running through NGS. To date, contributions total about $200,000. According to Smerud, most of that money came from larger entities like the City of Thunder Bay, The City of Duluth and economic development agencies.

“That will cover the NGS for their services,” he said. The website will contain information and links to regional and area events. The partnership will be responsible for updating the site with anything from a school event to geological discoveries.

“We hope people using the site will find many areas of interest to visit, turning a one- or two-day trip into a longer vacation stay in the region,” Franchot added.

Another aspect of the partnership is bringing lots of different organizations together to better broadcast information about local communities and their cultural activities. So far about 100 groups, businesses and government agencies have attended meetings about the program. 

“We are particularly excited about this project because we see tremendous potential to build a greater sense of regional identity while at the same time enhancing tourism throughout the region in partnership with the National Geographic Society, which is one of the truly great brands in outdoor travel,” Franchot said.

Jim Dion, Sustainable Tourism Program Manager in the maps division of NGS, said that projects similar to the Heart of the Continent Program have been successful in other regions, like the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States and the Crown of the Continent project covering much of the Rocky Mountain range.

“Our web site supports destinations by showing what is special about the area,” said Dion, including lesser-known places.

“Tourism is not always just about numbers, it’s about long term visions and achieving goals of economic opportunities and inspiring people to travel to your location. We identify small towns or places having special activities that display area culture,” Dion said, adding that one of the benefits of the geotourism projects is that it brings people together by creating dialog among industry, community and small business and working toward the objective of creating and sustaining tourism to the region. The program is expected to be up and running sometime in 2014.