Tumbler Ridge Geopark Proposal is ready for showtime

Trent Ernst, Editor

Scant months after the idea was proposed, the Tumbler Ridge Geopark Proposal is now ready for review. 
The Geopark, spearheaded by the Museum Foundation, in conjunction with the community of Tumbler Ridge, Northern BC Tourism and the Wolverine Nordic & Mountain Society (WNMS) has formed a committee to propose a UNESCO Global Geopark.
If successful this would be the second UNESCO Global Geopark in North America. Currently there are 89 such Geoparks worldwide. Godfrey Nowlan, Chair of the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks says a Geopark is a UNESCO designation that takes into account an areas human history as well as natural history. “Geoparks originally come from China,” says Nowlan. “Because their land has been occupied for thousands of years so there is very little land left in the natural state. They were looking for a way to celebrate their geo-heritage but also their cultural history, so a geopark also deals with the human area. It could be celebrating mines that were built hundreds or thousands of years ago.”
The idea of a Geopark for Tumbler Ridge first made public at the July 3 council meeting. Charles Helm from the TRMF and chair of the newly-formed Geopark Steering Committee says the idea came from Rich McCrea and Lisa Buckley, who were invited to Turkmenistan early last year to help them assess a potential World Heritage Site. Helm says the two got talking to some UNESCO officials about Tumbler Ridge. “Through those discussions, it became apparent that a Geopark just seems the absolute perfect fit for Tumbler Ridge,” says Helm.
Nowlan says there are three key elements needed to be considered for geopark status. First, important sites have to be conserved. Helm says in Tumbler Ridge, areas like Monkman and Wapiti Lake Provincial Parks are protected and other areas, like the waterfalls and dinosaur tracks, lay in areas that are not going to be threatened by industry. 
Second, says Nowlan, there must be some educational component, interpreting the site for the public. Helm points to the dinosaur camps and trackway tours already underway. 
Finally, says Nowlan, there should be sustainable development around the concept. Again, Helm says we’re already there. “The product is already developed. The books are already written. We’ve known for so long that what we’ve got is globally unique. The challenge has been getting the word out and developing the economic things that go with it: the tourism, the guiding. These things come slowly, and something like this could be the catalyst that puts Tumbler Ridge on the international map.”
Helm says there is clearly a potential opportunity for the creation of such a Geopark in the Tumbler Ridge area, given our rich fossil heritage. “We have the research program of the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre with associated education and guided tour programs, the Museum exhibits in the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery and the Community Centre,” says Helm. 

But it’s not just paleontological discoveries that drive the proposal, says Helm. Other natural features, such as the waterfalls, rock formations, alpine summits and caves are important, as is the extensive network of hiking trails to destinations of geological interest.  
In addition, says Helm, much of the area’s industry is closely connected with fossil fuel and geological resource extraction (e.g. coal and natural gas). “Our industries can potentially play an important role as stakeholders in the development of the proposed Geopark. These attributes, together with the tourism theme of ‘Waterfalls and Dinosaurs’, allow us to claim that we are already functioning as a de facto Geopark. The proposed Tumbler Ridge Geopark will also highlight the combination of biology and ecosystems, geography, archaeology, First Nations history, pioneer heritage and culture that characterize the area.” The boundaries of the proposed Tumbler Ridge Geopark extend from the Alberta boundary in the east to Mt Palsson in the west (at its widest, a distance of 119 kms), and from Bulley Glacier Peak in the south to Skunk Falls in the north (a maximum distance 105 kms). 
The surface area of this region is 7822 square kilometers and elevation ranges from 663 to 2630 metres above sea level. 
Alongside Helm on the Geopark Steering Committee are Mayor Darwin Wren, former Mayor Larry White, who is representing the TRMF, Thomas Clark, representing the WNMS, April Moi, representing Northern BC Tourism, and Ray Proulx of Teck, representing industry. 
Additional members representing tourism operators and educational facilities will be added soon, says Helm. 
The Steering Committee is being advised by a number of scientific advisors. In addition to paleontologists Buckley and McCrea, geologist Kevin Sharman and archeologist Sarah Waters will be providing advice to the committee. 
Helm says the Geopark proposal is moving ahead quickly. “We plan to submit an Expression of Interest to the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks in March 2013, which will likely prompt a site visit by this committee in the summer of 2013.”
A site visit from the National body overseeing the formation of Geoparks is the first step towards an application to the UNESCO Global Geopark Network. Helm says if all goes well, they plan to submit the application later in the year. He says a draft version of their Expression of Interest is already available, and can be viewed by members of the public on the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation website www.trmf.ca . 
This proposal, says Helm, has significant potential implications for Tumbler Ridge and the Peace Region. “Economic diversification, community sustainability and job creation, in addition to taking the celebration of our remarkable heritage to new heights.” Because the proposals are community driven, says Helm, he invites everyone who is interested to visit the TRMF Website to download the proposal. “I would appreciate your feedback, comments and suggestions on the draft Expression of Interest and any other thoughts you may have pertaining to the proposed Tumbler Ridge Geopark,” says Helm. 
I look forward to conferring with you further in this endeavor and to discussing the proposed Tumbler Ridge Geopark concept and the opportunities it presents.