Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

NGS Heart of the Continent

The Heart of the Continent Geotourism MapGuide

Improving market access for small and medium sized tourism businesses in the Heart of the Continent bi-national region, from Thunder Bay and Fort Frances in Ontario, Canada to Duluth in Minnesota, U.S.A.

  • Partners:
    • National Geographic Society Maps Division
    • Heart of the Continent Partnership
    • The Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC)
    • The Town of Atikokan
    • The Atikokan Economic Development Corporation
    • Cook County, Minnesota
    • Cook County Visitors Bureau
    • The Town of Atikokan
    • The City of Duluth, Minnesota
    • The City of Eveleth, Minnesota
    • The Town of Fort Frances, Ontario
    • Fort Williams Historical Park
    • Friends of Boundary Waters Wilderness
    • The City of Grand Marais, Minnesota
    • Grand Portage National Monument
    • The International Falls Economic Development Authority
    • Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board
    • Koochiching County, Minnesota Development Authority
    • Lake County, Minnesota
    • Lakehead University
    • The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
    • Mountain Iron
    • Neebing, Thunder Bay
    • Northeast Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership
    • Northland Foundation
    • Oliver Paipoonge
    • Ontario Parks
    • Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota
    • PolyMet Mining
    • St. Louis County
    • Superior National Forest
    • Tourism Northern Ontario
    • Tourism Thunder Bay
    • Voyageurs National Park
    • Voyageurs National Park Association
    • Voyageurs Outfitters
    • Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center
  • Project Duration: January 2014 – January 2015

The Challenge

The beautiful Heart of the Continent region encompasses the communities, lakes, and forests of the Minnesota/Ontario border region. This 5.5 million acre (2.2 million hectares) landscape comprises a blend of working forests, rugged scenery, pristine watersheds, abundant wildlife and outstanding biodiversity as well as its own culture and historic uniqueness.

The Heart of the Continent Partnership, a Canadian/American coalition of land managers and local stakeholders, works together on cross-border projects that promote the economic, cultural and natural health of the region. In alliance with the Heart of the Continent Partnership, our challenge is to sustain and enhance the geographical character of the region - its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents- by highlighting and improving awareness of the outstanding natural, cultural, and historical resources and historic gateway communities of this region. In doing so, the challenge is also to help enhance the economic viability of these communities through sustainable tourism.

The Solution

The Geotourism Program for the bi-national Heart of the Continent is helping communities within the region to improve their market position within the tourism sphere by providing potential visitors with local knowledge of the Heart of the Content’s unique place-based tourism attractions, sites and businesses and the abundance of authentic experiences offered. The project’s core deliverable, is a National Geographic co-branded website and app that will motivate people to visit the region and provide resources for travel that will enhance the benefits from tourism for local people.

The Heart of the Continent project will mobilize public action in the region to be part of an interactive platform to tell the stories of their places through the website, select the key messages, attractions, activities, products and experiences that tell the unique stories of the region’s communities and natural wonders. These are then highlighted, interpreted and marketed through the Geotourism Website and app. The Geotourism program not only drives increased visitation to the region, but by its nature also attracts the type of visitors most likely to enjoy the cultural, historic and natural experiences of the Heart of the Continent and to care about the people and place they are visiting.

Major Activities

  • Initiate key stakeholder outreach and establish Geotourism stewardship council: Program partners engage diverse regional stakeholders (conservation, community, business, cultural, and ethnic) to identify and recruit a broadly representative Geotourism Stewardship Council (GSC) to help guide the program locally.
  • Develop methodology for submitting nominations for the map: Solimar, National Geographic and program partners develop a plan for gathering site nominations for the Geotourism Website within the local context and design and create site nomination web site to start gathering local content.
  • Geotourism MapGuide launch events: Participatory Workshops and events are held with key stakeholders to engage local participation in gathering local stories about sites, attractions and businesses.
  • Execute community outreach and collect data: Solimar and the local Geotourism Stewardship Council organize community outreach activities, to help people from the region tell their story through the website.
  • Verification and Fact Checking: Information uploaded to the site is checked, verified in partnership with the local Geotourism Stewardship Council and where needed lightly edited.
  • Contextual Information: Based on the information gathered, destination level descriptions and introductory text is developed through interviews with key local voices.
  • Cartographic design, research, edit Through the information gathered by Solimar in collaboration with our local partner, Natiponal Geographic places the selected information on the website, researching, verifying and locating each map point, placing text and photos, securing photo rights, and editing text.
  • Launch and Distribution/Dissemination The website is launched with local partners and National Geographic and promoted to targeted travel markets.


  • Creation of a National Geographic co-branded website that provides information on local, authentic tourism businesses, sites and attractions in the region
  • Creation of a mobile app that pulls the content from the websites into an Android and Mac OIS app format for mobile use.
  • Strategic business plan and marketing strategy to guide the long-term sustainability of the program
  • Establishment of a Geotourism Stewardship Council of local tourism representatives to guide and sustain the program aver the long-term

The Tourism Project Link:

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