Two Nations, One Region: The Heart Of The Continent
Lake at Quetico Provincial Park. Photo by Steve Wall/Flickr
The Heart of the Continent represents more than the geographical center of the North American continent. Made up of public lands such as Quetico Provincial Park, Superior National Forest, and Voyageurs National Park, the area is also 5.5 million acres of rugged scenery, pristine watersheds, working forests, and abundant wildlife—making it the largest public greenspace in North America, protected and valued by two countries.
Forming the Partnership
In 2007, several groups involved with managing the public lands along the Minnesota/Ontario border joined with other engaged organizations to develop a long-term vision for this impressive landscape. They formally organized the Heart of the Continent Partnership (HOCP) with the mission to “sustain and celebrate the health, beauty, diversity, and productivity of the natural and cultural resources of the border lakes region through collaboration to meet the needs of present and future generations”.
To realize this mission, the HOCP recognized that towns, cities, and communities throughout the Heart of Continent region needed to be thriving local economies that would provide the goods and services for visitors as well as economic opportunities and a desirable quality of life for residents. With these goals met, the region can support their neighboring public lands and nurture the future stewards of the natural environment.
The International Congress
The Heart of the Continent Partnership invited The Conservation Fund’s Conservation Leadership Network to plan and deliver a four-day workshop based on the Conservation Leadership Network’s national Balancing Nature and Commerce course. In late 2011, after a year of planning to tailor the program to the needs of this region, the Conservation Leadership Network and the HOCP convened a historic bi-national program: the International Community Congress for the Heart of the Continent Partnership. The Congress brought together over 10 regional teams made up of 80 participants representing the area’s top elected leaders, public land managers, and engaged community representatives.
Such a powerful convergence of leadership was unprecedented. Meeting in turn at Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario and at the Grand Portage Lodge in Minnesota, this bi-national Congress provided a neutral forum for community teams to develop plans that intend to transform this rich eco-region into a bi-national destination. Teams left with action plans to spur community economic development and connect the region and its history in ways that would transcend the border and foster vigorous partnerships for the benefit of residents and future visitors to this beautiful region.
One early result of the Congress is the expressed interest of the National Geographic Society in profiling the region. Expect to see plenty more from this region as the overwhelming enthusiasm from these teams continues to improve the sustainability of each community’s individual economy and the public lands in the broader Heart of the Continent region.