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Nat Geo collaborative promotes geotourism in the region

National Geographic maps coordinator Jim Dion addresses enthusiastic members of the Heart of the Continent Partnership last Wednesday.  The HOCP will use technology to educate and draw visitors to the region. (L to R) St Louis County Commissioner Frank Jewell, Dion, and John Cameron, Thunder Bay tourism development officer and HCOP steering committee member. Photo by Ken Vogel

Ken Vogel

A regional representative and local officials were on hand in Duluth last Wednesday to launch activities for the Heart of the Continent Partnership with the National Geographic Society’s Geo-Tourism Program. The HOCP will display activities and promote tourism along the North Shore and throughout northeastern Minnesota by means of the NGS website. It’s a technological approach to economic and cultural sustainability that has proven valuable in other regions including the greater Yellowstone region and the California redwood coast. NGS defines geo-tourism as travel that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents

The Heart of the Continent Partnership is a coalition of land managers and stake holders from the US and Canada working with the NGS to showcase the unique features of northeastern Minnesota and southwestern Ontario – the Superior National Forest, Quetico Provincial Park, BWCAW, Isle Royale and the Grand Portage National Monument — an area covering approximately 5.5 million acres.

“The Nat Geo maps division is pleased to have the opportunity to spotlight this region and, in doing so, support and sustain it as one of the world’s most treasured places,” said Jim Dion, director of tourism programs at National Geographic maps division. “The online geotourism MapGuide will celebrate the abundant and diverse scenic, cultural and historical attributes of the bi-national Heart of the Continent region from the unique vantage point of those who live there.” According to Dion it is the mission of the NGS to inspire people about the planet.

“We will use local knowledge from the people that live here to inspire others to visit this special place. What better way to promote this unique part of the world, than by allowing communities to thrive by expressing what is uniquely special about their location and portray it to the world,” he said. Regional officials have taken an interest in the endeavor and its potential for the area.

According to Frank Jewell, St. Louis County Commissioner and co-coordinator of HOCP, this project will be an extensive undertaking requiring cooperative leadership from land managers, communities and businesses.

“In the near future the design team will be meeting weekly by phone conference to identify and parcel out the tasks that need to take place to get us ready to launch the nominations process in April,” Jewell said. “We have a very committed group of members on this team and they have accepted this big task of implementation.” Among them is Wolf Ridge executive director, Peter Smerud, who said that the nomination process will include a period during which members of communities in the target area can select a must-see destination –anything from a business to a local trail — create a user account through NGS, write a description, upload photos or videos and submit their recommendations for inclusion on the website.

“A group of local, US and Canadian representatives, including myself as a representative from Wolf Ridge… will review nominations,” he said. “Then with approval first from National Geographic, the nomination becomes a recommended opportunity for a visitor to the Heart of the Continent.”

The potential impact on tourism created by the HCOP has captured the attention of both the public and private sectors. New partners to the NGS project include the Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce, Lake County Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Historical Society- Split Rock Lighthouse and the Cook County Visitors Bureau.

“It’s absolutely tremendous how this project has brought together such a diverse representation of people, business and tourism in our region.” said Smerud. “In the past, meetings have been smaller, but this week we were joined by representatives from such groups as chambers of commerce, tourism bureaus and agencies, First Nation populations, etc… There were many government agencies, but also some non-profit and for-profit organizations.”

One of the benefits of programs like HOCP is to facilitate a collaborative effort among a broad spectrum of individuasl and group who share a common goal.

“The act of partnering with such a diverse multi-national group is already spurring ideas of other cooperative projects or beneficial partnerships,” Smerud said. “This is an exciting endeavor to promote and participate in. I am certain it’s going to be a good thing for our area. The power of National Geographic is tremendous and we’re fortunate to have their support of this area that we all love.”