Geopark planned for Bonavista area

Steering committee working towards official designation since 2005

Ashley Fitzpatrick
Published on May 29, 2012

Discovery Trail communities including Elliston, Bonavista, Catalina, Trinity and Port Union may be considered park communities within two years' time if the Discovery Geopark becomes a reality.

Geoparks, rather than focusing on boundary lines (though they do have them), tend to act as "overlays," highlighting geologically significant locations while adding a layer of geoscience information to established tourist sites and activities.

The area covered by a geopark can encompass existing provincial and national parks, even World Heritage Sites. Geopark creators base their boundaries on the park "story," to be told through geological formations and historical use of the area.

The story of would-be Discovery Geopark was outlined Monday by John Norman, a member of the park steering committee. He presented the concept to delegates of a joint meeting of the Geological Association of Canada and the Mineralogical Association of Canada, being held at the Delta Hotel and Conference Centre in St. John's.

In the Bonavista area and the province as a whole, "the geology piece has not yet been fully visited and explained for visitors," Norman said.

Establishing the geopark would be a means of changing this, while encouraging tourism to the Bonavista area.

To that end, the Discovery Geopark steering committee was first formed in 2005.

Norman's presentation began with photos of peninsula harbours and the root cellars of Elliston. He explained the park story will be how Newfoundlanders built their communities in connection with the geology and geography of the area, how they lived off the land and on its edge.

Geologically, the park will highlight wonders such as fossils of the first complex organisms after "snowball earth," about 580 million years ago. The creation of natural formations such as "the dungeon" and "the chimney," as they are known by locals, will be explained in park programs and informational materials.

The committee is in the process of selecting eight to 10 geologically significant sites on which to base educational information.

The plan is to tap existing tourism assets and infrastructure to fill out the park story and add to geopark educational initiatives and partnership activities.

"The awareness is rising in the region of what we're trying to accomplish," Norman said, noting the geopark steering committee includes representatives of local business, heritage organizations, Parks Canada and several provincial government departments.

As a next step, the committee is hoping to send representatives to the European Geoparks Conference in Portugal in September, to seek advice on the launch of the park.

The committee is expected to apply for status as an official global geopark prior to the International Geoparks Conference 2014, to be held at Stonehammer Geopark in New Brunswick. The conference is led by the Global Geopark Network, with the encouragement of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Stonehammer is the only recognized geopark in Canada. It covers 2,500 square kilometres across Southern New Brunswick.

Its leadership has one paid position, a part-time executive director, but teamed with existing tour providers and, by providing training sessions for tour guides and statements on the geological story of well-known features in the Stonehammer area, geological tours emerged.

Meanwhile, if the Discovery Geopark is going to get off the ground, it will require volunteers - building the brand, making connections with existing tourism businesses, incorporating geological storytelling into activities and infrastructure.

"It's not geological," Godfrey Nowlan, chair of the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks, said of the work. "It's all the other people in the community that are significantly more important in the long run."

The Copper Coast Geopark in Ireland has been offered up as an example of a geopark already drawing tourists to an area comparable to Bonavista. That park is named for 19th century copper mines found at the heart of the park boundaries.