Geoparks offer tourist activites, economic development

Steering committee working on final steps to Bonavista geopark

Ashley Fitzpatrick
Published on May 28, 2012

Geoscientists are being asked to get the word out on their work in a way that can be understood by the average Canadian. Under that mandate, geoparks have become an attractive idea, as a mechanism for education and outreach.

Today, 88 geoparks can be found in 27 countries under the Global Geoparks Network. One of the 88 parks is located in Canada.

Rather than focusing on a physical boundary (though they do have them), geoparks act as “overlays.” They encompass areas including World Heritage Sites and existing parks.

With a defined area, geoparks volunteers then connect tourism-related businesses within that area — assisting them to offer geological information to visitors paired with experiences related to the geosciences and geological heritage.

For example, a geopark might offer a guided walk identifying different building stones and providing a history of quarry work and masonry in the area. The same park might offer a kayak tour along the coast, wherein a guide briefly explains the geological history behind sea caves and outcroppings.

Viewings of sites where there is active geoscience fieldwork are an option, providing explanations of the work and the site’s significance.

Geopark offices act as a hub for area information — training tour guides and co-ordinating educational programs.


Geoparks in Canada

A grassroots steering committee was started in 2005 to look at the potential development of a geopark in the Bonavista area. The committee now includes heritage, parks and provincial government representatives.

Committee members are looking to attend a geoparks conference in Portugal later this year and will be seeking status as an official global geopark prior to the International Geoparks Conference in 2014.

If the geopark in Bonavista becomes a reality (more on the proposed park in tomorrow’s edition of The Telegram), it will be only the second geopark in Canada.

“Canada’s geopark potential... it’s enormous really,” said Godfrey Nowlan, chair of the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks.

Nowlan spoke on the subject to delegates of the joint meeting of the Geological Association of Canada and the Mineralogical Association of Canada at the Delta Hotel and Conference Centre in St. John’s this morning. His speech was one in a series on geoparks, geological heritage and the potential for geotourism development.

“This wouldn’t have been possible, even five or six years ago — to have a session that spans the country the way that this does,” he told his audience.

On geopark sites, Nowlan said they must be selected carefully.

Getting a geopark up and running as a tourist attraction begins with having geoscientists evaluate the proposed park area and work with the park steering committee (typically volunteer) to map out the geological themes and the story that can be told using natural features in the area.

After that, Nowlan said, much of developing the park falls to the volunteers — building the brand, making connections with existing tourism businesses, incorporating geological storytelling into activities and infrastructure.  

“It’s not geological,” he said of the work. “It’s all the other people in the community that are significantly more important in the long run.”


The success of Stonehammer

Developing a park requires the efforts of many people who already have demands of day-to-day jobs or volunteer work to contend with. “I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s possible and I think Stonehammer has proven that in a big way,” Nowlan said.

Stonehammer Geopark in New Brunswick is Canada’s only global geopark and the first in North America.

The park will host the International Geoparks Conference in 2014. The conference is led by the Global Geopark Network, with the encouragement of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Stonehammer is named after the Steinhammer Club, a group of New Brunswick geoscientists collaborating on work from 1857-1862. It was created with community support, paired with small additions to existing tourism infrastructure and programming.

Starting out, “we knew there was no money to build anything new,” said Dr. Randy Miller, who helped establish Stonehammer. Miller is also attending the geological and mineralogical association joint conference in St. John’s this week.

Today, the New Brunswick geopark offers activities in an area covering 2,500 square kilometres across Southern New Brunswick. The activities are linked by the underlying geology of the area.

At many tourism and geoscience sites, “there’s not one word of why we’re there or the geological significance,” Miller said. This is where the geopark idea comes into play.

Presentations at the St. John’s conference included the example of Copper Coast Geopark in Ireland.

More on geoparks across the pond is available through the European Geoparks Network.

Dr. Randy Miller spearheaded the creation of Stonehammer Geopark in New Brunswick. The geotourism site is recognized as Canada’s only global geopark, although a steering committee is looking to establish a similar venture on the Bonavista Peninsula. — Photo by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram