This is it

Trent Ernst, Editor


This is it.

When this paper hits the stands, the Tumbler Ridge delegation will be in Saint John, New Brunswick, at the Stonehammer Geopark, to find out if our Geopark application was successful.

The Sixth annual International UNESCO Conference on Global Geopark runs from September 19 to 22, with more than 450 delegates from around the world, representing geoparks from 30 countries.

The theme for this year’s conference is Connecting people to the earth in a way that is meaningful to them.

Eight people from the Geopark Committee will be flying to Stonehammer: Charles and Linda Helm, Jim and Helen Kincaid, Sue Kenny, April Moi, Mayor Wren and Larry White.

White showed up a week early, says Charles Helm, Chairperson for the Tumbler Ridge Aspiring Geopark Committee. While there, he has been making presentations to schools around New Brunswick about the Tumbler Ridge area.

Helm says that 2014 has been a year of new discoveries around the Tumbler Ridge area. “It has quite possibly been the best summer ever for new discoveries,” he says. “I now wish we could have the evaluation committee come now, as so much has happened in last three months. We thought we had things to show them then, but now…”

Helm goes on to list the discoveries. The first is an Internationally significant track find this summer, which is globally unique. In addition, he, his son, and a pair of friends went up a creek and discovered oldest dinosaur trackway in the area.

He mentions the fact that there has been a lot of work at the so-called dinosaur gorge, with a latex peel being made of the tracksite. They were joined on this by MLA Mike Bernier, and he invites Council to come along any time they want.

Kevin Sharman was out and “discovered amazing marine reptile that has never been described before,” says Helm.

This year, the local paleontologists discovered Triassic lobster fossils in the area, while local First Nations have discovered “what might be the largest clam shell in the world.”

Two weeks ago, says Helm, they removed the bird trackway from Roman Mountains. He says he was planning on cutting out the trackway and carrying it out on his back, but paleontologist Rich McCrea told him to bring the whole rock out, which involved having a helicopter fly in and lift it out. “But Rich found another 13 prints in the lab, so I’m glad I deferred to his knowledge.

There are now a total of four fossil bird trackways, making us a world leader in fossilized bird trackways.

But the discoveries have not been just paleontological. They have discovered a bunch of new caves. They have discovered new waterfalls, including one they are calling the Triple Jump Falls. “There is no evidence anyone has ever been there,” says Charles, “and it may be the most beautiful waterfall in the area.”

The Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society has built the 27 km TR trail, with 20 interpretive signs. “We are upping our game. We are increasing our standards trail by trail,” says Charles. “I was surprised when the delegation came here this summer. They were surprisingly critical about lack of interpretation.” The TR trail gains and loses as much elevation as the Emperor’s Challenge, so, despite its proximity to town, is quite tough.

Speaking of the Emperor’s Challenge, this year’s was the biggest and best ever.

The Geopark committee has also entered into a “park enhancement partnership” with BC parks to upgrade signage to Kinuseo falls. “Right now we give visitors a funny little photocopied brochure, tell them the road is in poor condition, and send them on their way.” By next year, there will be a new, colour brochure, and new signs that will go into the parking lot at Kinuseo.

New, potential archeology sites have been found along the east bank of Murray in the canyon. Recently, they brought in BC’s top archaeologists in to check out the sites.

“If that wasn’t enough,” says Helm, “The prehistoric Tumbler Ridge bison was repatriated and delivered to the museum on September 6th by our archaeology friends at SFU, and will be the centre of a celebration event with First Nations over the winter, prior to being exhibited.”

For 2014, museum visitation was up 15 percent from the previous year.

“How do we do justice to this?” Asks Helm. “How can one community be as lucky as this?”

But there is more work to be done. He says that volunteers can only do so much and scientists can only do so much. “What we urgently need to do is get a display with the tyrannosaur trackway ready. We’re already having people come and ask about it. But that will cost about $500,000. This is what is unique in Tumbler Ridge. This is what draws people.”

And, as mentioned, the Geopark evaluation committee said that trail signage was lacking. But one by one, that is being updated. Already they’ve improved signage for Quality Falls and Canyon and Boulder Gardens.

The second weakness? Sustainable museum funding. The museum is one of the centerpieces of the geopark, and funding needs to be in place.

Finally, BC needs Fossil protection legislation. He says they got the best letter they could get from Minster Thompson, and he promised this is coming, but it’s not there yet, and that could hurt the proposal.

Still, Helm is cautiously optimistic. “This is an international designation, and you don’t have to be just good, you have to be outstanding.

“It is hard to believe it is not even two years since Rich and Lisa returned from Turkmenistan and we first learned of the Geopark concept. We are aware of our weaknesses and have no unrealistic expectations as we head for Stonehammer. We are also acutely aware of the economic circumstances that have caused TR coal mines to close temporarily, and how our project holds out hope for economic diversification for our community and region. Regardless of the decision on our bid for Global Geopark status, thanks to the hard work of our dedicated committee and the enthusiasm of our supporters, I do think we can look in the mirror and conclude that we could not have tried harder.”