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Group looks for northeast North Dakota's best tourist attractions

GRAFTON, N.D.--A regional economic development organization is looking to find out whether North Dakota's northeast could have as much potential to draw tourists as the Badlands in its southwest.

Tetreault Overlook along the Pembina River Gorge
Tetreault Overlook along the Pembina River Gorge
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GRAFTON, N.D.-A regional economic development organization is looking to find out whether North Dakota's northeast could have as much potential to draw tourists as the Badlands in its southwest.

The Red River Regional Council announced last week it was chosen for a community innovation grant worth $10,000 to assess tourism potential. The funds come from the Consensus Council, a nonprofit organization that has a partnership with the Bush Foundation in Minnesota.

The grant, which comes with a $5,000 match from the council, will be used to fund efforts of the Rendezvous Region Tourism Committee, a group formed in 1992 to promote tourism in Pembina, Walsh, Nelson and Grand Forks counties, said Dawn Keeley, executive director of the Red River Regional Council.

In recent years, the committee has sat idle, with its last major project having the group print an updated map of the Rendezvous Region, Keeley said.

The group met last week to discuss how to use the $15,000 budget. With the re-establishment of the committee, the group has the potential to expand its efforts to tapping tourism potential outside its four-county region, Keeley said.

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"If we are doing this too tightly, then it is not as much as a magnet as if we had more amenities," she said, adding the committee is looking into expanding its coverage to the south and west. There also is a possibility of partnering with entities in Canada, she said.

The assessment will be done in three phases, including identifying attractions with tourism potential in the region and determining which have the greatest chance of success.

The first phase includes a survey asking community members to identify tourism attractions and potential in northeast North Dakota. The survey is at www.surveymonkey.com/r/69X7MTV .

More than 1.2 million people live within a two-hour drive of the Rendezvous Region, but many are unaware of the attractions it has to offer, Keeley said. She mentioned Medora, a southwest North Dakota city of roughly 130 residents that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Medora's main attractions are Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Medora Musical. The town with few residents presents activities for families and keeps them coming back with its Old West feel, museums, camping and local shopping, among other things.

"For certain outdoor activities, people will drive hours and hours to be a part," Keeley said.

There have been other attempts to promote tourism in the Rendezvous Region, including the Pembina County Strategic Planning Committee's development of a tourism strategy that was adopted as a part of the five-year county economic development plan. The North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department also gathered input from more than 250 residents for a master plan regarding the Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area.

Keeley said tourism is a key component of economic development and growth for northeast North Dakota. Communities need to not only provide jobs to potential workers but also have amenities that will attract residents to stay and tourists to spend money.

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"We have to be a cool place to be," she said, adding it's important everyone works together to grow the region. "We've really taken this holistic approach of we need to have great communities if we want to keep our people and draw people."

Related Topics: TOURISM
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