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Extension > Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships > Northeast > Sustainable Tourism and Resilient Communities > Sustainable Gateway Communities Initiative

Sustainable Gateway Communities Initiative

Project files


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:

  • Northeast Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership; 
  • College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences; 
  • Institute on the Environment; 
  • Extension; 
  • Management;
  • U of MN‐Duluth; 
  • U of MN‐Twin Cities.

List community partners:

  • City of Thunder Bay; 
  • Historic Fort William; 
  • City of Atikokan, 
  • Voyageurs National Park Association; 
  • Heart of the Continent Partnership; 
  • Voyageurs National Park; 
  • Superior National Forest; 
  • Grand Portage Band; 
  • Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness;
  • Quetico Provincial Park; 
  • Cook County Visitors Bureau; 
  • Grand Portage Lodge and Casino; 
  • City of Ranier, 
  • Municipality of Neebing, 
  • Grand Portage National Monument;
  • Iron Range Resource and Rehabilitation Board; 
  • Arrowhead Regional Development Commission, 
  • Canada Parks and Wilderness Society (CPWS);
  • Friends of Quetico
  • Provincial Park;  
  • Quetico Superior Foundation.


A planning group was developed to lay the ground work and provide the catalyst for a
successful fourday 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:
  • Voyageurs National Park
  • Superior National Forest
  • Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board
  • Arrowhead Regional Development Commission
  • Quetico Provincial Park
  • Historic Fort William

Leaders of several friends groups including:
  • Voyageurs National Park Association 
  • Friends of the Boundary Waters

Tribal Interests including: 
  • The Grand Portage Band of Chippewa Tribal Chair 

Tourism organizations including: 
  • Thunder Bay Tourism Alliance 
  • Cook County Tourism.

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:
  • Develop a 4 day workshop program (the Community Congress) and identify regional presenters
  • Create participant guidelines and expectations
  • Plan logistics
  • Promote the Congress to communities
  • Raise funds
  • Develop a process for evaluation of the project.


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:
  • Atikokan/Quetico Team
  • Communities of Grand Portage, Grand Marais & Gunflint Trail Team
  • Connecting Volunteers to the Heart of the Continent Team
  • Destination Voyageurs National Park Team
  • Iron Range Team
  • Municipality of Neebing Team
  • North Shore Scenic Drive Team
  • The New City of Ranier Team
  • The North of Superior/Parks Team
  • Trans Canada Trail Ontario Team
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
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)
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