Quetico Park is one hundred years old this year and Ontario Parks is celebrating with a year long roster of events to commemorate the milestone. For North American outdoors enthusiasts, Quetico is already a well known name and is about as great a wilderness paddling experience as you will find anywhere on the planet. Summer events will kick off June 12 in celebration of Canadian Rivers Day and there will be a number of events throughout the summer, both in the park and neighboring Atikokan (www.atikokan.ca)
The Park is also an important part of a bi national visitor experience as it connects with the Superior National Forest in Minnesota. The Heart of the Continent Partnership is a coalition that consists of land managers, along with stakeholders, that work together on cross-border projects to promote the natural health of the lakes and forests near the Ontario-Minnesota Border. To honour the partnership, and raise awareness, a canoe trip will weave in and out of Canadian and U-S waterways, with paddlers visiting several communities. Quetico Park will also see the return of their legendary Canoe Marathon, a two day round trip race from French Lake to Prairie Portage, that hasn’t taken place since the 1960’s.
Quetico Park is an asset that those of us in the Thunder Bay tourism industry don't really connect with as much as we should. despite it being 200 km away from the city, its an important part of the tourism economy we need to weave into our larger sustainable tourism strategy. Thunder Bay is a gateway to wilderness adventures, the single largest travel motivator in North America. Quetico's international reputation attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually and many of those need to come through Thunder Bay, either by road or air. Opportunities exist for Thunder Bay hotels, culinary providers, outdoor equipment outfitters and retailers, car rental firms and others to capture part of the market by encouraging visitors to consider Thunder Bay as their "base camp" before heading out to Atikokan and into the park.
Quetico has developed an incredible level of brand equity among the outdoor community, a demographic generally characterised as educated and more affluent. Quetico's name is attached to such products as canoes and even lifevests and is the subject of many, many books. Aligning Thunder Bay's image with that of Quetico helps raise our profile and opportunities exist, through passive and active cross promotion, to align their brand with ours. We have embraced economic, social and environmental sustainability as the cornerstone for moving our tourism industry forward and working with our iconic parks makes good sense all around. Parks lovers are also often people who plan conferences or particpate in organized sports. Building awareness with them on the liesure market may certainly help raise our urban profile for the conference and sport tourism markets as well.
Our organized parks systems have emerged as the major visitor attraction in the region. Consider that Quetico welcomed over 92 000 visitors in 2008 while Sleeping Giant saw over 57 000 and Kakabeka Falls over 283 000 and the importance becomes clear. Entities like Ontario Parks (http://www.ontarioparks.com/) and Parks Canada (http://www.pc.gc.ca/) are increasingly expanding their tourism visitor focus, recognizing the economic value and power of the experiences and geography they manage. In Thunder Bay, the successful realignment of our urban brand around Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is a prime example. The Lake Superior National Marine Conservation, whose boundary is a scant 15 miles from Prince Arthur's Landing is another gem that will increase our profile even more. Even our fantastic local parks - Chippewa, Centennial and Marina Park are all important elements in visitor attraction and retention and do, if partnered in the right context, deliver greater economic impacts for our local business community.
For more information on Quetico Park in general or the park's centennial celebrations, visit www.ontarioparks.com/english/quet.html or http://www.parkreports.com/events/event_details.php?parkID=71&Submit=View+Events