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N.L. government wrong about Mistaken Point, group says

Mistaken Point near Portugal Cove South on the southern shore.
Mistaken Point near Portugal Cove South on the Southern Shore.

Heritage group asks for more funding to ensure interpretation centres near world heritage site operate for full tourist season

Tourists booked as early as May for tours of the Mistaken Point UNESCO world heritage site might lose out on a part of the experience of visiting the area if interpretation centres at Portugal Cove South and nearby Cape Race are not open for much of the tourist season, says the group that operates the centres.

Mistaken Point Cape Race Heritage Inc. says unless it gets more operational funding, the centres will be closed during peak tourist season this summer.

“We are at a critical stage now where if we do not get funding we will not be able to stay open for the season,” said Gertie Molloy, chair of the group’s board of directors.

“Part of the plan for this UNESCO site is presentation, and that begins at the Edge of Avalon Interpretation Centre in Portugal Cove South and, as well, at the Myrick Wireless Interpretation Centre at the National Historic Site at Cape Race.

“Some visitors come to the centre first, go to Cape Race and then go to Mistaken Point. It’s all part of the experience.”

The heritage group receives about $15,000 from the provincial government to operate the centres. Last year, that meant the centres couldn’t open until July, leaving a lot of tourists visiting the area before that time disappointed, Molloy said.

The group has asked the government for an additional $50,000 for this year.

Outside the operational funding, the provincial government will provide about $400,000 this year for nine paid positions at Mistaken Point, as well as some student jobs. The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources also rents space in the interpretation centre.

Molloy said the board appreciates those positions and the rent, but that doesn’t help keep both centres open during the entire season.

She said the group has also tried to fundraise and find sponsors, but that hasn’t been very successful thus far.

The board has requested a meeting with the provincial government, particularly Tourism Minister Christopher Mitchelmore, to make their case.

But just like the disorienting fog that often closes in on the point that resulted in the name of Mistaken Point, confusion overtakes members of the board as to why the provincial government won’t respond to that request.

“I don’t know why they won’t respond to us directly. The only response has been in the media,” Molloy said. “We’ve always had a good relationship with government. We asked in the last correspondence we had with them if we could meet with them to discuss this. They even haven’t come back to us on that.”

Mistaken Point received the UNESCO designation in 2016 as a result of its large number of Ediacaran fossils. Scientists say the fossils, 560 million to 579 million years old, represent the first signs of locomotion in multi-celled organisms.

There are 18 world heritage sites in Canada, four of which are in Newfoundland and Labrador. Mistaken Point is the first to be managed by the province.

Molloy said that places the responsibility on the province to ensure visitors get the best experience while visiting the area.

Despite the short time it operated last season, the interpretation centre welcomed about 10,000 visitors, Molloy said. She says the numbers would grow substantially if the centre were open for the full tourist season.

She said the town, region and volunteers have worked hard over the past decade to get to the point they are now. Failing to invest in the proper supports for the site jeopardizes economic growth in the region, she said.

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