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St. Croix watershed collaborative moves closer to national approval

North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix Heritage Area would be the first National Heritage Area in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The St. Croix River watershed. (Map courtesy of the St. Croix River Association)

A two-state collaboration promoting the natural, cultural and historic resources of the St. Croix River watershed took a step closer to earning national recognition last month.

North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix Heritage Area has fulfilled National Park Service criteria to be designated a National Heritage Area . The designation would unlock federal funding and raise awareness of the area, which includes two states, four Ojibwe tribes, 18 counties and 114 separate zip codes. Portions of Douglas County, including Gordon, Wascott and Dairyland, are included.

“We're a concept. It puts us on the map,” said Marty Harding, chairwoman of North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix Heritage Area, during a Feb. 18 webinar. “It’s a tool for economic development, and this region needs everything it can muster right now to get our communities back up and going and as full of life as they have always been.”

The next and final step to earning National Heritage Area status would be an act of Congress. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisconsin, has drafted a bill which could be heard as early as this year, Harding said.

RELATED: Support sought for dark sky designation in Douglas County Angela Botner, a photographer and board chairwoman for the town of Solon Springs, said the designation could attract tourists to Douglas County and raise awareness of lighting choices that curb light pollution.


There are currently 55 National Heritage Areas in the United States. If North Woods and Waters is approved, it would become the first such area in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The sites are run by nonprofits or universities with technical assistance from the National Park Service, Harding said. The designation can net significant federal funding, but heritage areas have no regulatory power over land use or policies and cannot use federal funds to acquire land.

National Heritage Areas are a grassroots, community-driven approach to heritage conservation and economic development. Participants in the webinar discussed how the distinction could impact natural resource conservation, tourism and economics in the area.

Visit the North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix Heritage Area website for more information. The site also offers opportunities to highlight local events, historic sites and activities online. Speakers are available to talk about the drive to create the new National Heritage Area. Email info@northwoodsandwaters.org to set up a presentation. Resolutions of support for the effort are also being sought.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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