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Extension selects communities for tourism assessment program

Media contacts: Allison Sandve, University of Minnesota Extension, (612) 626-4077, ajsandve@umn.edu, or Dan Gilchrist, Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, (612) 626-9827, dang@umn.edu.

ST. PAUL, Minn.(July 10, 2013)—Several Minnesota communities will benefit from a new University of Minnesota Extension project aimed at improving small towns' long-term tourism prospects by identifying and enhancing local assets. Communities will see their town's strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of first-time visitors posing as prospective business owners, vacationers or shoppers. The final report will include visitor impressions, University research and an analysis by local residents, resulting in a three-way perspective of a community's tourism potential.

The communities, selected through a statewide application process, are:
• Warroad in Lake of the Woods County;
• Houston in Houston County;
• Akeley in Hubbard County;
• The northern Minnesota combined communities of Orr/Pelican Lake, Crane Lake, Ash River, Kabetogama Lake and Ranier working as the Destination Voyageurs National Park; and
• The western Minnesota combined communities of Clinton, Graceville and Beardsley.

The project is led by Extension's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) and University of Minnesota Tourism Center. In May, they invited communities with fewer than 1,500 residents or clusters of small communities to apply for the Minnesota Sustainable Tourism Assessment for Small Communities (MSTASC) program.

Communities were chosen from the five greater Minnesota regions served by the RSDP, a University of Minnesota Extension program that creates citizen-driven University partnerships to address community-identified agriculture, natural resources and tourism issues.

"We received 24 applications on a very tight deadline, and we were impressed with what small towns and rural places proposed," said RSDP statewide director Kathryn Draeger. "We chose communities on the basis of region, the promise of their ideas, and the strength of community support."

"Often small and rural communities have great stories to tell and unique cultural and natural assets that would be of interest to regional visitors," says project coordinator Cynthia Messer, University of Minnesota Extension educator and tourism specialist.

There is no fee for the assessment for the five communities, but they will provide in-kind support to implement action steps. Community visits will take place in July, August and September with community reports planned for January and February 2014.

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University of Minnesota Extension's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships support sustainable development throughout greater Minnesota through University-community partnerships. Topics include: agriculture and food systems, clean energy, tourism and resilient communities, and natural resources

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