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The continental heart

Happy belated Valentine’s Day from the city with the giant heart.
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Happy belated Valentine’s Day from the city with the giant heart.

Tourism manager Paul Pepe is sending a $15,000 Valentine from Thunder Bay’s tourism budget to the National Geographic Society in return for a shout-out on its interactive website.

It is part of a cross-border initiative to partner Northeastern Minnesota with a strip of Northwestern Ontario and have the area designated the “Heart of the Continent.”

It takes in a total of 5.5 million acres north and south of the border (Can/USA) and represents an opportunity to link with National Geographic’s geo-tourism charter.

Geo-tourism is eco-tourism’s hipster cousin and members of this elite club promote activities that sustain or enhance the unique geographical characteristics of an area.

I’m not sure what that means, exactly…

But membership doesn’t come cheap – Thunder Bay’s contribution will be a small part of the $200,000 payable to the society for its endorsement and best wishes.

National Geographic expects all signatories to protect and preserve the designated area’s physical, cultural and historical significance.
The environment, aesthetics, heritage and well-being of area residents will be honoured, respected and unspoiled for future generations.

Those are pretty lofty goals – they will be hard to accomplish with just $15,000.

Some of the less lofty goals are to increase awareness of the Heart of the Continent partnership and attract more tourist dollars to the region.

But good news/bad news – the society expects a major part of any tourism revenues to be reinvested in conservation activities.
Some say the interactive website will send a flood of tourists our way.

Mr. Pepe said, “We’re trying to get the pie bigger.” He expects urban centres like Thunder Bay and Atikokan to act as “tourist hubs.”
It’s good to be optimistic as tourism manager, but I suspect it may take some time for Thunder Bay, let alone Atikokan, to achieve full hub status.

Thunder Bay has been trying for decades to establish itself as a world class tourist destination and this appears to be another attempt to lure those elusive tourism dollars.

We’ve tried Canada Games, Nordic Games, skateboard parks and splash pads but we have neither the population nor the resources to ensure long-term success.   

It’s unlikely that a small cash contribution and a link to National Geographic’s interactive website will turn that all around.

However, that hasn’t stopped other global self-interest groups from jumping on the bandwagon to promote their own particular brand of geo-tourism.

Our city will be competing for the attention of world travellers with the Redwood Forests of California and the terraced vineyards of the Duoro Valley in Portugal.

Virtual tourists will also be clicking on interactive links to Norway, Guatemala, Honduras and Romania, including lovely, geo-friendly Transylvania.

The Boreal Forest (aka The Heart of the Continent) is a vast, unspoiled pristine wilderness – those who love it, love it a lot.

However, I believe it is an acquired taste and does not have the mass appeal necessary to attract large numbers of geo-tourists, eco-tourists or their fat eco-friendly wallets.

It remains ours to enjoy, anonymously and without much global recognition – a well-kept secret hidden away in the middle of North America somewhere.

It’s hard to imagine what our city has to gain by courting National Geographic but I do like their TV specials and I still have a tribute pile of old magazines sitting in the garage.

Unless I’m mistaken, our fair city has even graced the pages of that magazine from time to time over the past 50 years or so.

The stakeholders promoting the Heart of the Continent are no doubt hopeful of even greater success.