The Lake Superior Binational Forum will shut down operations at the end of March because of funding cuts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Environment Canada stopped funding the forum in 2011.
The cross-border volunteer group brought together industry, environmentalists and communities to discuss the best way to manage the lake.
The forum's American coordinator hopes the program can be reborn as a charitable organization called Friends of Lake Superior.
"More than ever before the public is interested in Lake Superior, and they're demanding protection," said Lissa Radke. "We don't want to lose the momentum that we've created."
The forum was the only group that provided open dialogue across the entire watershed, she said.
For example, in 2008, the forum organized a series of public discussions around cleaning up a contaminated area in the Marathon, Ont. harbour.
Forum volunteers made recommendations based on what they heard from people at the meetings.
The main issue that emerged was concern around the town's sewage treatment plant, which the municipality agreed to upgrade the following year.
If the forum can't recreate itself as a non-governmental organization, Radke said, that kind of consensus-building is what will be lost.
"So we might think we know everything, and we might have very strong opinions, but when we hear from other people who think differently from us there's a great learning opportunity, and that allows us to make better decisions for our own community."