Tumbler Ridge Welcomes Geopark Delegation

Trent Ernst, Editor


This is a big week for Tumbler Ridge and its bid to become North America’s second Geopark. This is the week that the delegations arrive for their evaluation mission.

Charles Helm says it’s a very exciting time right now. “We are preparing to be good hosts,” says Helm. “We have four varied evening events planned: a welcome reception in the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery on the Friday, a dinner banquet at the golf course on the Saturday, a backyard potluck on the Sunday and a farewell barbecue with the Lions Club on the Monday.”

For the next few days, Dr Luis Alcala and Dr Zhang Jianping will be joining Dr. Godfrey Nowlan, Chairperson of the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks in Tumbler Ridge to explore the area and study its feasibility as a Geopark location.

Dr. Alcala is a Spanish Paleontologist and Director of the Fundación Conjunto Paleontológico de Teruel-Dinópolis, in Teruel, Spain. He is a co-discoverer of Turiasaurus riodevensis, a sauropod that is believed to be the largest dinosaur found in Europe and one of the largest dinosaurs ever, with a length of 30 metres and a weight of up to 48 tonnes, which is about the same as seven adult male elephants.

Dr Jianping, is a professor at the China University of Geosciences in Beijing and the director of Research Center for Geopark (Geoheritage). He has been engaged in the geopark-related work since 2000, and chaired or participated in geoheritage investigations and application dossier preparations for many Chinese national and global geoparks. He has helped create the regulations and guidelines of Chinese national geopark investigation, planning, application, management and construction.

Godfrey Nowlan is a research scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada, and an expert on Lower Paleozoic stratigraphy and biostratigraphy with special interest in phosphatic microfossils. He is active in promoting public awareness of science through local, national and international organizations, and co-founded the Calgary Science Network and the Alberta Science Literacy Association. He has served two terms as Chairman of the Canadian Geoscience Education Network and is a member of the board of the Canadian Federation of Earth Science, and is the Chair of the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks.

While they are in town, they will be visiting many of Tumbler Ridge’s most spectacular scenery, from a jetboat trip through the Murray River Canyon, to a helicopter flight over Kinuseo Falls and the Cascades. They will also be touring the museum, and visiting many of the paleontological sites around town.

“We are hoping for good weather,” says Helm. “There will be a lot of indoor time spent reviewing our proposals and answering our guests’ questions, but also many field trips—we have booked a helicopter and riverboat for when the weather is suitable for these trips, and will be hiking many of the trails to the geosites, and visiting the dinosaur sites.”

If everything goes well, the area around Tumbler Ridge could be declared a Geopark by the end of the year. “This is probably the final hurdle in our application process, and we believe that a little bit of nervous tension before such an important event is appropriate. After this visit we will wait for the UNESCO conference in Stonehammer in September.

But, says Helm, there’s still a lot of people who don’t quite understand what a Geopark is.

What is a Geopark?

From the brochure: “A Geopark is an area recognized by the Global Geoparks Network with geological heritage of international significance. The Global Geoparks Network is supported by UNESCO. The geology in a Geopark is linked to sites with interesting archaeology, wildlife, history, folklore and culture. Tourism industry promotion in a Geopark focuses on highlighting the geographical character of a place.

“Geoparks also inform about the sustainable use and need for natural resources, whether they are mined (like metallurgical coal), quarried or harnessed from the surrounding environment, while at the same time promoting respect for the environment and the integrity of the landscape.”

Geoparks are frequently grassroots, community-driven initiatives. And while the project is supported by the town, the Peace River Regional District and the Province, all the hard work is being done by the local committee.

The Tumbler Ridge Aspiring Geopark Steering Committee has led the project. It is composed of volunteers, supported by scientific advisors in geology, palaeontology and archaeology. Members include the Mayor of Tumbler Ridge and representatives from Northern BC Tourism, industry, local tourism operators, schools, the museum and the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society.

An application by the Tumbler Ridge Aspiring Geopark Committee was sent in October of 2013 to the Global Geoparks Network to become a member of this network.  Currently there are 102 Global Geoparks, many in Europe and Asia.  There is one in North America (Stonehammer in New Brunswick) and one in South America (in Brazil).

The proposal has also been endorsed by the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks. They say “we are confident that the sites identified will constitute an excellent Geopark. The magnificent diversity of outstanding and accessible mountain geology, extraordinary waterfalls and dinosaur fossils and trackways will provide for an excellent Geopark. The Geopark will have activities suitable for everyone from the motoring tourist to hikers to those seeking adventurous backcountry experiences.”

The application has proceeded rapidly. In January 2014, notice was received that it had met criteria, was undergoing final geological review, and that a visit by an international delegation to assess the proposal would hopefully follow in the summer of 2014.

The total area of the proposed Geopark  is 7722 square kilometers. The area has wonderfully varied geology, topography, scenery and human history, and has been catapulted to fame by the fantastic paleontological discoveries of the past decade. The Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, with its associated educational programs and field tours, forms the anchor of the proposed Geopark, supported by the network of hiking trails to geological destinations, and by tourism operators.

Tumbler Ridge has suffered in the past from being a one-industry town, subject to boom-and-bust cycles. The proposed Geopark would diversify our economy through tourism, celebrating our phenomenal strengths such as waterfalls and dinosaurs, and our unique geology-related history. If the application is successful, we would be the first Global Geopark in western North America and would attract worldwide attention. Elsewhere in the world, Geopark status has led to significant local and regional economic benefits.

Funding from the Peace River Regional District in 2013 kick-started the project. We are working on funding support from many levels and partnerships including various levels of government, industry, and private donations. Elsewhere, Geopark projects of this magnitude and importance have received substantial provincial funding.

While the word “park” reminds people of provincial and national parks and their restrictions on certain activities like ATVing and snowmobiling,  a Geopark would create increased recreation opportunities, such as better maintained and signed ATV trails, or tours to remote sites of scenic or geological significance. Even industrial activities like mining would enhance the Geopark and highlight how the geology was pivotal in the creation of the town of Tumbler Ridge and sustains its economy. “We are working with the local mines to try to re-institute the public mine tours that were so popular in the 1980s and 1990s,” says Helm.

Attractions and activities for visitors and residents

A network of hiking trails leads to 43 geosites across 21 destination areas of geological and aesthetic interest, including waterfalls, rock formations, alpine meadows and lakes, canyons, mountain summits and caves. The research program of the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre has allowed for the creation of the adjoining Dinosaur Discovery Gallery in Tumbler Ridge, which forms the centrepiece attraction for visitors in interpretation, programs and education.

The Dinosaur Discovery Gallery houses exhibits and interpretation of the fossil discoveries from the area.

Exhibits in the Community Centre focus more on the human history of the area, which ultimately is related to the geological history that preceded it.

The Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation’s guided tours to dinosaur trackways close to town provide an experience of these sites in their pristine valley settings, complemented by educational camps.

The hiking trail brochures developed by the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society describe geological phenomena. Bergeron Falls and Bergeron Cliffs, Boulder Gardens and the Shipyard, the Stone Corral, Windfall Lake, the Cascades, and the Murray Canyon Overlook hikes are of particular geological interest. In winter, skiing up Flatbed Creek allows appreciation of an anticline and sedimentary formations.

For the motorist, the viewpoints at Kinuseo Falls allow appreciation of rock folding and a great waterfall, while trips up or down the Murray River by boat pass through canyons and  rock faulting features. Helicopter tours offer another means of enjoying the geology.

For the adventurous, there is an abundance of wilderness, glaciers, peaks, cirques, caves and canyons.

The book trilogy, Tumbler Ridge – the Scenery, the Fossils, the Human History, provides further information.

“We are looking forward to getting to know our international guests and are grateful that Dr Godfrey Nowlan, Chairperson of the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks, is attending too,” says Helm. “We are fortunate, too, that a considerable of funding has materialized in the last few weeks for the proposed Geopark and related projects—these will be announced at the Friday evening reception, and each one of these strengthens our proposal. Mayor and Council’s funding commitment to the new Visitor Info Centre is also hugely important.

“We know our strengths and weaknesses and believe our proposal and products are more than adequate. It is exciting to see Tumbler Ridge and our projects now on the cusp of international recognition, especially at this otherwise economically challenging time for the community.”

With files from the Geopark Steering Committee