Monday, September 22, 2014

Input needed on new ‘Heart’ website

If you were creating a map of Northwestern Ontario and northeastern Minnesota, what businesses, trails, and landmarks would you include?
That’s exactly what the “Heart of the Continent Partnership,” which now includes the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, will be asking area businesses and others in the near future.

HOCP is a project involving National Geographic and community partners that revolves around the creation of a website, which will be the “go-to place” for information about the region, increase global awareness of the unique attributes and assets of the region, and inspire sustainable tourism, especially from international visitors.
“The ‘Heart of the Continent Partnership’ is one of the best cross-border examples of co-operation I can think of,” Pete Schultz, director of the International Falls, Ranier and Rainy Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, said during a cross-border brainstorming session last Wednesday evening at the AmericInn in the Falls.
“Several years ago, it was noticed that this portion of [the U.S.] has some of the oldest rock in the North American continent,” he noted.
“It’s the ‘heart’ of the continent; it’s where the continent was born with volcanic ash.”
Schultz said National Geographic recognized the significance of this geographic area, and its geologic formations, and set out to make it one of their destinations in the world.
“[It is] one of 17 that is featured in a website in an effort to promote it,” he noted.
Schultz added the HOCP started with defining a geographic area from Thunder Bay to Duluth, and up to International Falls and Fort Frances, and then enlisting the support of every community they could within that geographic area.
A loose-knit organization melded together when enough money (more than $200,000) was raised to jump in with National Geographic and fund development of this website.
In mid-February, Schultz said the HOCP met in Duluth and signed a contract with the National Geographic Society for a project that would map and highlight the area’s natural features, historic sites, bars, restaurants, and hotels in order to direct tourists here.
“We hope that will come about in time to promote tourism season next year for both sides of the border,” he remarked.
This is where the input will be needed.
Eric Johnson, a local outfitter who also sits on the design committee for the website mapping project, said that in the next week, he’ll be announcing some “training dates” on how to nominate different things that will be on it.
“The real onus is going to be on the business owners, the museums, the different people in charge of the trails—things that want to be on this website,” Johnson noted.
“The onus will be on that to nominate their own things to be on there.
“Us on the design team will look over those, make sure they’re up to standard, fact check and make sure everything is right, and then push them onto National Geographic,” he explained.
“National Geographic will have the final say on what is on the website,” Johnson stressed.
Johnson said they’re looking at about a six- to seven-month nomination period.
“Don’t feel bad if you don’t get on there by then,” he assured. “This is going to be an ongoing [process] as businesses die, grow, start.
“As things change in this area, things will change on the website.
“This will be an ongoing, living piece.”
Johnson said if people want to get a better idea of what the website will look like, visit www.crownofthecontinent.net
This is a National Geographic site which was made for Glacier National Park and Waterton National Park in Alberta, B.C., and Montana.
More information on the nomination process will be provided in the near future, said Johnson.
Annely Armstrong, manager of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, told the Times last week that its interest in the HOCP began a year ago, when co-chairs Frank Jewell and Doug Franchot came to her to ask if the Chamber wanted to get involved.
After presenting this information to the board, Armstrong said a motion was made to support and pursue this endeavour.
Since then, Armstrong has done a lot of “boots on the ground” promotion for HOCP, including a brainstorming session last year, as well as regular updates since then.
“At that first brainstorming meeting with Doug, we also had Stephen Challis, president of the Rainy Lake Conservancy present, as it seemed people were confused about the [‘Path of the Voyageur’] project and the HOCP,” Armstrong recalled.
“We thought it was important to let everyone know they were both very different, yet both very important projects.”
Armstrong also has attended meetings in the Falls, made continual reports to the Chamber board, and most recently enlisted Chamber director Bob Hamilton to attend the HOCP site brainstorming sessions last month in Duluth.
The Chamber confirmed the dollar amount of its commitment to the HOCP at its monthly board meeting yesterday (Tuesday).
Going forward, Armstrong also is on the steering committee to help promote the HOCP launch in this area, along with others selected in each location within the “Heart of the Continent” area.
More information on the launch will be revealed shortly.

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