Notes from the HOCP

Gathering at the

Great Rendezvous

Heart of the Continent Partnership meets and celebrates at the

Great Rendezvous Fort William Historical Park

There are a boatload of quotes that could be used with this photo that would allude to our cross border collaborative, the Heart of the Continent Partnership. Whether it speaks of the "different boats all paddling the same river'', or how "paddling together moves us forward". All true and relevant to the continued commitment that started over a century ago between Superior National Forest and Quetico Provincial Park.

In 2023 the Heart of the Continent Partnership has had over 120 collaborating organizations. Our newly signed Sister Sites Arrangement includes the Public Land Agencies of Superior National Forest, Voyageurs National Park, Grand Portage National Monument, NE Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Quetico and La Verendrye Provincial Parks.

The 100 year old tradition of cross border cooperation continues to flourish.

FWHP Manager Patrick Morash Welcomes Voyageurs

A good mix of agencies met at the Fort Gathering including:

  • Neebing EDC
  • Minnesota Department Natural Resources
  • Lakehead Region Conservation Authority
  • Lakehead University
  • Fort William Historical Park
  • Path of the Paddle Association
  • Astro-photographer
  • Starry Skies North
  • Grand Portage National Monument
  • Northland College
  • University of Minnesota
  • Quetico Provincial Park
  • Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
  • Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park
  • Superior National Forest
  • Ontario Ministry Natural Resources
  • Friends of Quetico Park
  • Minnesota State Parks
  • Heart of the Continent

Cannons fired during the Grand Arrival

Kay Lee - astrophotographer


New faces and old friends from both sides of the border gathered with the shared goal of protecting

our public lands and benefitting our gateway communities.

Tonia Kittelson, Chair of the Heart of the Continent Partnership (HOCP), asked guests to introduce

themselves and invited them to tell why they are involved and attend our Gatherings.

Here are a few examples.

Gary Davies, past steering committee member, talked of his continued interest in the organization because of its cross border, non-partisan agenda that strives to embrace environmental stewardship

as well as benefit the local economies.

Shelly Patten - NE Director of Minnesota DNR felt that, along with other land managers, she was

involved for the same reason.

"We want to bring people to the outdoors and to make their experiences the best they can be, whether from Minnesota or Ontario, whether you work for the

province, state or federal government - we have the same goals and objectives. To be able to share what has worked for us, and other agencies will help each of us do a better job.”

Julie Rosenthal, Professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said she became interested in HOCP

because she likes to share with students good work being done in parks, conservation, and the best

practices on both sides of the border.

"It is what you guys are doing; it is why I came in November and after that meeting became part of the steering committee.”

Travis Novitsky, from Grand Portage Band of Chippewa, photographer, and Manager of Grand

Portage MN State Park, stated that "The Heart of the Continent is my ancestral homeland. I've traveled and photographed a lot of beautiful places, but none compare to what we call the Heart of the Continent.”

Each of the participants introduced themselves and it was inspiring to hear the good messages throughout the room. There definitely is a shared interest of community, starry skies and our managed green spaces.

"In terms of welcoming everyone here today, I can't think of a better time or place for this group to come together. This is the Great Rendezvous, the rendezvous is coming together and celebrating" - FWHP -Patrick Morash

A grand welcome from General Manager, Patrick Morash - spoke of the interactive possibilities for visitors at Fort William Historical Park, the history of their old logo and introduced their new logo "Bringing Life to History" with the focus on the canoe, the significance of its intertwined connection with the Indigenous contribution to the fur trade. Also,.....why they shoot cannons to welcome people.

Sister Sites Arrangement and Official Re-signing

Shelly Patten - NE Minnesota Department Natural Resources, Thomas Hall - Superior National Forest, Trevor Gibb - Quetico Provincial Park, Heather Boyd - Grand Portage National Monument, Mike Holm - La Verendrye Provincial Park, Missing - Bob DeGross - Voyageurs National Park

Sister Sites Arrangement and official re-signing - Trevor Gibb, Quetico Provincial Park Superintendent gives the group the short history of a long standing cross border cooperation and the more recent past decades of our Sister Sites Arrangement that includes the neighbouring agencies of Superior national Forest, Voyageur National Park, Grand Portage National Monument, NE Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Quetico and La Verendrye Provincial Parks.

 “The purpose of the Sister Sites Arrangement is to promote national and international cooperation and support for the mutual benefit of these special places, and to enrich the experience and training of the site personnel. The relationship allows the Sister Sites to benefit by sharing experiences and approaches to collaboration, including local efforts to work with gateway communities, regional and local economies, friends groups and partner organizations. This may be accomplished primarily through the exchange of managerial, technical and professional knowledge, information, data, technology, training, and experience.” - “While all these Sister Site agencies have cooperated collegially for decades, this continued arrangement acknowledges the value of prior, current, and future cooperation”

First signed in 2011 at the Heart of the Continent Community Congress, the Sister Sites Arrangement is being re-signed for the third time acknowledging the benefits for the collaborating agencies to continue to help each other to improve on their public lands and neighbouring communities.

Trevor Gibb - " the Sister Sites Arrangement is really an extension of a 100 years of cooperation and an extension of the Heart of the Continent Partnership".

The Partnership really makes the Arrangement possible by these gatherings and other coordinated efforts to keep conversations flowing. The signing is a tool that formalizes and makes it easier to work together.

Shelly Patten - "We will find bureaucracy on both sides of the border and when we sign something like this it has to go through the checks and balances and it fits into what we all agree on , the goals and missions/visions that our agencies work towards''.

When asked for an example of cooperative projects, Trevor referred to the ongoing Heart of the Continent Dark Sky Initiative. "We have shared resources for our applications and continue to share resources for annual monitoring and educational interpretation programs. Other projects have been in the field on border portage work, sharing of technical knowledge, maintenance personnel".

Tonia - "The standing arrangement allows for this sharing without a lot of red tape, it is cyclical and gets renewed every five years and can be reassessed and added to".

Trevor mentioned that other agencies and First Nation involvement would be beneficial.

John Guthrie - Friends of Quetico Park - jotting down points during dark sky conversations

Planning Session - The Future for HOCP - Chair Tonia Kittelson

Tonia Kittelson - Let's talk about the future. A good place to start is why it was thought to create a collaborative group from different agencies, different occupations, different countries.

We share some of the same values, caring for public lands and the communities that surround them.

Our question is how can we help with that? Our mission:

"The Heart of the Continent Partnership works to inclusively build vibrant and resilient communities that value and protect public lands in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Ontario".


We have a mission to help our public lands and our neighbouring communities, and it can be the lines

that separate us that can sometimes hinder our progress. Over the years our efforts have been successful at helping each other steer in a more productive and less scattered direction.

The Partnership and our collaborative efforts have helped kick start our communities into working more as a region, cross-promoting each other. We can help to make under valued areas more visited and over used areas better

cared for. For context, a brief summary of events follows.

Our HOCP Canoe The Heart trip was a learning experience. It brought together our members to share ideas of creating a region-wide conversation that would help the environment as well as the economy.

Our Community Congress in 2011 gathered community members from all walks, to look at ideas that would enhance their work, clubs, businesses and agencies.

An HOCP Gathering on Voyageur Island near Quetico, spurred a commitment to create a combined effort to protect dark skies. A collaborative

project with public land managers that have protected a large area like no other!

We have had successful recreation and tourism summits to share ideas on sustainable tourism.

Our Bike the Heart Initiative has been a fun course of action to share the benefits of cycling tourism as well as

some of the popular routes, trails, and facilities that service bicycling enthusiasts.

Our science symposiums created a venue to share what is being done in natural science and social science on both sides of the border. It has also helped soften the border and lines of communication.

Tonia asked the group to think of the opportunities that we could be doing with a much larger budget and

more staff. While asked to dream big in ways we can achieve the mission, participants jotted down ideas:

* Increase number of science symposiums including Indigenous knowledge.

*More sustainable recreation/tourism summits.

*Increase our partnership involvement - both our small communities ie First Nation communities and our larger cities, Duluth and Thunder Bay. Other agencies including Parks Canada and OMNR

* Increased involvement with our CVB's and DMO's - Folk Schools

* "A Visit with Respect"; campaign!

*Promotion of Indigenous language in the HOC

*Trail app map for multi purpose usage

*Plan for controlled tourism, some destinations are feeling their visitations are too high, some too low. A continued strategy by our partnership as a lead to keep economy flourishing and the quiet character of the region.

*Continued and increase cross promotion of clubs, their trails, facilities, events which will generate visitation to neighbouring accommodations and restaurants.

*Developed subcommittees to work on specific projects. - distinct focused groups ie land managers.

*Create a "Stories from the Heart" - possibly blog?

*Potentially increase size to include western shores of Lake Superior - Black Bay in the north and Bayfield in the south.

Respect for the character of the land and the people was a common thought. It was pointed out that this concept is in our HOCP brochure, and it is what we have based our Partnership on.

There were a lot of good ideas that the group shared and we will bring these ideas to our next meetings to continue these good conversations.

Increased Respect for the

 Land and its People

Presentation: Assisted Migration Plan Giving Nature a Nudge

Katie Frerker, Ecologist, Superior National Forest, USDA

Katie Freker did a great presentation on trying to keep up with a changing forest. She shared the goals and

mission of the Superior National Forest (SNF), the challenges it has now and will be facing in the future, as

well as the changes in their management needed to keep up with the changing forest. Their plan includes staff, government agencies, research organizations, cooperatives, partners, and tribal involvement and guidance.

Assisted population migration involves the human-assisted movement of seed sources or populations to new locations within the historical established range of a species.

It’s never too early to start having discussions, or at least making connections, regarding how you

might plan for AM and obtain seed.

Implementing AM in an informed and respectful manner takes time - and the time to start is now.

Katie Frerker is working with USFS Washington Office Forestry Assisted Migration Technical Assistance Team (FAMTAT) to use SNF AM Plan and Implementation Guide as basis for national guidance.

We were delighted to have Katie present for us on her last day with the Superior National Forest as she is moving on to the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science as their new Climate Adaption Specialist.

Presentation: Lake Superior Living Labs Network - 

Rachel Portinga, Network Coordinator.

Lake Superior Living Labs formed four years ago, during the pandemic, it has been a challenge. Our overall goal is to strive for equalized justice and to think regionally, nationally and internationally.

It is a broad goal and can be taken in a lot of ways, climate, energy food, and well being are some of what they work on,

"We strive to bring together people that don't usually talk to each other about these issues".

With hubs on the Ontario side in Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay as well as the Houghton and Duluth on the U.S. side. We have adopted a program that is popular in Europe, but instead of a building or campus or community scale we are trying to work on a watershed scale. Engaging in justice sustainability is one of our core concepts and co-creating partnerships across the watershed.

Roughly 60 people are involved, representing academia, the non-profit world, municipal, and regional development.

Promoting cross-hub projects with a keen interest in cross-boundary collaborations. Each hub runs differently and work on varied projects that include

  • organic vegetable initiative
  • solar panel use/installation
  • planting for fire restoration
  • podcast for Pigeon River
  • co-creating nest partnerships across watersheds

Cross border projects were some webinars. Our big action plan happened in 2021 with an in person field school event.

"We continue to look for what is happening on cross border activities, what is and what isn't working".

Shelly Patten and Travis Novitsky during a meeting break

4 Steps in 4 Years -Director - Shelly Patten NE Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Shelly Patten spoke of their recent success and how they were awarded funding through a strategy that paid off.

"Four Steps in Four Years"

The DNR has very little funding dedicated to operating, there is gas tax and licensing that contributes but every 2 years we request funding from the State to assist operations. Our campaign this time, "Get Out More" was to ensure that the people of Minnesota would receive the expected services.


  • lack of investment for conservation
  • lack of a strict funding source
  • lack of stewardship

There is no silver bullet solution, but with this investment we received we feel we can make some great strides with the resources that we have.

Accessibility for all is a big push with specialized mountain biking, kayak ramps for easy access for putting in and taking out. Also looking at the future for new safety infrastructure, being proactive with safety and with conservation.

Other mentions:

  • modernizing outdoor recreation experiences
  • creating dams with fish and wildlife passage in mind

Shelly also pointed out the differences they have found with working with their website and how much more visitation and activity they find with their social media.

It was suggested that the strategic planning that was used by the DNR could be used by the our Partnership.

How to get steady reliable funding.

What service do we provide?

How to fund? How to market us?

Focusing on a target area, why to invest? What is our hook? Friends groups/Foundations?

The strategies of finding funding evolved into how HOCP could adopt new methods of funding and direction - see column above on Planning Session

Three northern Minnesota Tribes and the USDA Forest Service Sign Historic Memorandum of Understanding - Thomas Hall, Forest Supervisor - Superior National Forest

Tom Hall explained the signing of a MOU with Grand Portage, Fond du Lac and and Bois Fort Band of Chippewa to provide for co-stewardship and protection of the Bands treaty-reserved rights under the 1854 Treaty within the Superior National Forest.

The three bands drafted a proposal in 2022.

There was good momentum of discussing ways the Bands and the Forest Service could work better

together. The MOU would give the Bands the opportunity to ensure that their voices were heard, recognizing the rights that they have. It took over a year, but in May 2023 the document went all the way to the top of the USDA agency for review and back down for signatures.

This is a historic MOU with three independent federally recognized Bands. Under this MOU we have

looked at identified lands that we would like to work together on. There is a lot of definition in the MOU the lays out how we will have the right conversations at the right times with consultations in a meaningful ways.

The first piece was laying out consultations of both large broad controversial projects to smaller

ongoing items.

Other items;

  • defining relationship
  • shared learning
  • shared priorities

There will be funding for a liaison coordinator. Since signing we have identified funding towards the

shared learning, tribal liaison to help take the next steps.1854 has signed on as a fiscal agent. The last piece would be special areas, they may need to be protected, they may need a special strategy and how our work with the Bands are transparent.

Consultation is done monthly with Band Natural Resource staff along with SNF program managers and district rangers.

"We are in the early stages; lessons have been learned. There will still be disagreements, but this is an historic step to co-stewardship".

Group Dark Sky Conversations and Presentation/Workshop - Cynthia Lapp and Randy Larson of Starry Skies North (A chapter of the International Dark Sky Association).

Now newly named DarkSky (or DarkSky International)

Cynthia Lapp asked the group what it was that inspired their interest in the dark sky initiative and to pursue the designation of the areas that have been certified. Chris mentioned that it was very much a subject most everyone could get excited about. Tonia agreed and also indicated the the dark sky initiative was something that was easy to get behind and didn't stir up or offend, but was easy to accept. Tonia talked of the three big players, Voyageurs National Park, the Superior National Forest and Quetico Provincial Park and land masses that creates a core of protected skies. They could help other organizations or areas work towards dark sky certification.

Ryan Mackett spoke of the Lakehead Conservation Authority, managing ten conservation areas and the possibility of them researching dark sky designation for one or more of their conservation areas. ''Some of them are closer to the city but others are darker without power. It will take a number of agencies, the municipality and the public to buy into the cause and the need to protect the dark skies.

We were broken off in groups and topics discussed from each group were brought back to the room. Good feedback from each group including;

  • bringing the enthusiasm for dark skies to the younger generations.
  • informing municipalities, private sector
  • supporting other area to start dark sky process
  • increase astrotourism
  • energy reduction
  • indigenous knowledge
  • financial incentives for communities

The Grand Arrival - Voyageurs Paddle to the Fort, up the Kam River to The Great Rendezvous at Fort William

Three voyageur canoes came from Quetico. Park Portage Crew Staff took the jobs of gouvernail and devants, helping the Heart of the Continent Partnership participate in the Grand Arrival Celebrations on Saturday July 15th 2023

It had been 12 years since The Great Rendezvous and it returned in full splendor!

The Great Rendezvous is a re-creation of the annual summer gathering held at Fort William over 200 years ago. This was when it was the inland headquarters of the North West Company, which, at the time was the world’s largest fur trading enterprise with posts stretching across North America. During Rendezvous, French-Canadian voyageurs, Scottish traders, Indigenous Peoples, and others from across the globe would gather at Fort William to discuss business, share news, and renew friendships.

We were happy to continue this tradition of discussing business, sharing and renewing friendships at the Heart of the Continent Gathering.

The re-enactment included daily workshops, contests, and the Grand Arrival. We were delighted to take part in the 50th celebration we are very happy that a rendezvous is already in the plans for Fort William for 2024.

Thank you to the hosts at the Fort for inviting us to participate in the Great Rendezvous.