Charles Helm, Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark Society
On September 22 our Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark was officially designated by the Global Geoparks Network, supported by UNESCO, at the Sixth International UNESCO Conference on Global Geoparks in Saint John, New Brunswick.
We are one of 111 worldwide, the second in Canada and North America, and the first in the West. Elsewhere in the world, such status has brought with it many diversification, economic, cultural and educational benefits. There are also the intangible benefits that lie in reconnecting people with the Earth and their heritage. How do we work towards achieving all of this in Tumbler Ridge?
The seven delegates from our region who attended the conference (hosted by Stonehammer, Canada’s first Global Geopark) emerged bonded, enlightened and inspired to make this happen. Associating for four days with almost 500 delegates from thirty countries, all with similar passions and goals, was an incredible experience.
Professor Patrick McKeever, Chief of Section at UNESCO’s Earth Sciences and Geohazard Risk Reduction Division, delivered a keynote address on Geoparks and what they can mean for communities. The key elements he discussed were ownership, pride, empowerment, partnership, and ambassadorship. These points are all pertinent to us in Tumbler Ridge in a time of great economic uncertainty. Global Geopark status enables us to take ownership of our uniquely precious geological and palaeontological heritage, to be proud of the achievements of our scientists and volunteers, and to be appreciative of our remarkable geography. It empowers us to take control of our destiny to some degree. It encourages us to strengthen the wonderful partnerships we have already developed, with various levels of government and First Nations, with Northern BC Tourism, BC Parks, BC Rec Sites and Trails, our Chamber of Commerce, and with educational and scientific institutions, and industry. And it allows each of us the chance for reflection, to ask how we as individuals can be geo-ambassadors for our region in this process, how we choose to tell our stories, create our crafts, design our exhibits, adorn our buildings, develop our business ventures and, perhaps most important of all, how we involve Tumbler Ridge’s younger generation in this process.
The Petrified Forest Global Geopark on Lesvos Island in Greece can serve as an example to consider: annual visitation increased from 5,000 to 100,000 over a ten year period, and 56 direct jobs were created. Current visitation at our Dinosaur Discovery Gallery is well over 4,000, and is increasing by ten to 15 percent per year—this trend can now be expected to healthily accelerate. However, we want to avoid raising unrealistic expectations. Global Geopark designation is not a light-switch… the anticipated benefits will need a period of time in which to evolve.
It is time now, as winter approaches, to consolidate. We are already functioning as a Global Geopark, but there are many areas in which enhancement is possible. The first step is the completion of our Master Plan, funded by the Provincial Government. We will discuss the implications of our new status with the Peace River Regional District which has so generously funded us, with our local Council that has supported the museum project for years, and with our MLA Mike Bernier and our MP Bob Zimmer. We will soon be holding an open house at which we will help residents to gain more clarity about our Global Geopark, dispel any lingering myths, and outline opportunities for involvement. A more formal opening, including a First Nations ceremony, will be held early in 2015. We will continue to enhance signage on our trails and our highways, and other forms of branding, all of which will leave visitors in no doubt that they are entering a special area. We will continue to fine-tune our formal geosites database and establish which sites are best suited to tourist visitation. We will work at developing and enhancing educational programs through our institutions for both residents and visitors. We will continue networking with other like-minded groups worldwide, and look at twinning our Global Geopark with candidates on other continents. We will continue to support other aspiring geoparks in North America and contribute to the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks. At a regional level we will engage with other communities and their geological or cultural heritage projects in the hope that we can help promote them. We will see the planned new Visitor Centre as a potential opportunity to showcase what we have to offer. We will develop a winter Geosite destination through the ski trail up Flatbed Canyon. And this is all just the beginning.
However, while these exciting areas of expansion are vital, perhaps more important is that we will continue doing what we have been doing for the last decade and more, the stuff that has already successfully brought us to this point within an unusually short time-span. In other words, our palaeontologists will continue doing the cutting-edge research and developing the outstanding exhibits and programs which have underpinned this success, we will continue to seek all possible means of sustainable funding, and our dedicated volunteers will continue to lead by example and commitment. And vitally, we will continue to do what helps define us: to explore, and to discover, and to turn the fruits of these discoveries into museum exhibits and original research and accessible destinations as effectively as possible.
We are now presented with an amazing opportunity. Achieving Global Geopark status is an important milestone for Tumbler Ridge, the Peace Region and British Columbia. However, this is really just another step in the process of enhancing the visitor and resident experience, and making us a truly worthy, internationally-embraced destination. It promises to be an exciting journey, on which anyone who is willing and interested is welcome to be a fellow traveler.