What Exactly is a Geopark?

Trent Ernst, Editor


There is still some confusion around the issue, with people opposing the Geopark because they think it will mean an end to hunting, fishing, quadding and mining in the area.

But nothing could be further from the truth, says Charles Helm, chairperson for the committee. While the word ‘park’ brings to mind provincial and national parks, with 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.

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.

An application was sent in October of 2013 to the Global Geoparks Network to become a member of this network. That application was accepted on September 22 of this year.

But why Tumbler Ridge?

How did Tumbler Ridge become a Geopark when there are only 111 in total around the world? To a large part, it is due to the hard work of groups like the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society to promote tourism, develop trails and understand and identify the natural features around us. Yes, Tumbler Ridge is home to Kinuseo Falls, one of the province’s most spectacular waterfalls, but one waterfall a geopark does not make.

But 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, with more being discovered every year? “One of the things that makes us unique in the Geopark network is the degree to which we have these ongoing discoveries,” says Helm. “In the last two months we’ve discovered new caves, new waterfalls, new bird trackways, new dinosaur trackways. What could be the world’s biggest clam. A new marine reptile. The rate of discovery is absolutely incredible. It’s just an incredibly exiting period.”

In addition, the research program of the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre has allowed for the creation of the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery in Tumbler Ridge, which forms the centrepiece attraction for visitors in interpretation, programs and education. Without this two-pronged approach to the palaeontology in the Tumbler Ridge area, much of what is known about the prehistoric beginnings of Tumbler Ridge would still be buried, says Helm.

“The magnificent diversity of outstanding and accessible mountain geology, extraordinary waterfalls and dinosaur fossils and trackways will provide for an excellent Geopark,” he says. “The Geopark will have activities suitable for everyone from the motoring tourist to hikers to those seeking adventurous backcountry experiences.”

The total area of the newly-designated Geopark  is 7,722 square kilometers. The area has a varied geology, topography, scenery and human history, and has been catapulted to fame by the fantastic paleontological discoveries of the past decade.

Tumbler Ridge has suffered in the past from being a one-industry town, subject to boom-and-bust cycles, says Helm. The new Geopark will 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.”

No magic bullet

But, says Helm, people need to approach the Geopark with clear eyes. “This is not going to be a magic bullet to solve all Tumbler Ridge’s problems,” he says. “But it will help.”

He points to Lesvos Geopark in Greece. “When they started they had 5000 people a year visiting,” says Helm. “After ten years, they were at 100,000 visitors a year. Right now, we’re at 5000 people a year. While I don’t see us emulating those numbers, it gives you an example of how the designation can accelerate the process. We’ve never claimed that the Geopark can make up for losing three coal mines, but it is diversification, and that’s what our community needs.”

Tumbler Ridge one of eleven new Geoparks

Eleven new sites were added to the Global Geoparks Network at the sixth Global Geoparks Conference, held in the Stonehammer Global Geopark. Like the Tumbler Ridge Geopark, the new Geoparks “celebrate the 4.6 billion years of Earth’s history, and the geo-diversity that has shaped every aspect of our lives and of our societies,” says UNESCO.

The additional Geoparks bring the total number to 111 across 32 countries. Tumbler Ridge’s fellow inductees are:

Ore of the Alps Global Geopark

Situated 50 kilometres south of Salzburg, Austria, the human history of this region goes back to the Copper and Bronze-Age, and is closely linked with the area’s mineral resources, specially iron ore and gold. The site is characterised by carbonate cliffs, waterfalls, gorges, springs, rock fall terraces, cirque lakes, and roche mountonées.

Mount Kunlun Global Geopark

Mount Kunlun Global Geopark is 90 km from Golmud City in Qinghai Province, China. The Geopark is endowed with abundant geological relics providing evidence of complicated crustal movements and ocean-land conversions. With magnificent glacier and permafrost landforms, the Geopark is an ideal place for research on landscapes. It was one of the areas from where human beings began to explore the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world’s highest, with the longest section built on permafrost, runs across the Geopark. Mount Kunlun, known as “the ancestor of mountains”, holds a special place in Chinese mythology and culture.

Dali Mount Cangshan Global Geopark

Located in western Yunnan Province at the southern end of the lofty Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in China, Mt Cangshan is a young mountain formed only 50 million years ago.  But the rocks that make up the mountain are more than 2 billion years old. It is the southernmost mountain in Asia reached by the latest glaciation period and many glacial landforms are well preserved and displayed. Mt Cangshan is a sacred mountain and displays unusual natural beauty. The unique and colourful traditions of the Bai indigenous people have helped make the site a popular tourist destination.

Odsherred Global Geopark

The Odsherred Peninsula landscape, situated about 100 kilometres from Copenhagen, Denmark, was formed only 17,000 years ago. The Odsherred arches are key localities to understanding the principles of glacial landscape formations from this period. They are also a classic geomorphological example of glacial depressions, end moraines and melt-water flood plains. The glacial series of Odsherred, with its variety of distinct shapes, is surrounded by the sea to the east, north and west. The Geopark also features active, ongoing postglacial coastal processes like lagoon formation, bogs, and sand migration. Today, the area is a leading Danish holiday destination.

Monts d’Ardeche Global Geopark

Monts d’Ardèche is France’s fifth Global Geopark and the first one outside the Alps. It is located on the eastern edge of the Massif Central at the interface between the Rhône valley and the uplands of the Massif. It covers 2,200 square kilometers of low mountains with steep slopes. Volcanism is the major feature here, and the Geopark includes two distinct and major sets of volcanism-issued landscapes.

Aso Global Geopark

Aso Global Geopark is located in the centre of Kyushu, the south east island of Japan. The Geopark possesses a giant caldera, formed by four super eruptions about 270,000 to 90,000 years ago, central cones and an active crater. The Aso volcano was the centre of an ancient volcano-related religion and some of its folk traditions continue today. About 50,000 people live inside the caldera. The major part of the Geopark lies within Aso Kuju National Park, the first Japanese National Park designated in 1934. Remains of Stone Age settlements about 30,000 years ago have been found on the peaks surrounding the caldera.

M’Goun Global Geopark

M’Goun Geopark is located in the middle of the Central High Atlas mountains in Morocco, the highest and largest of mountain ranges in the country. The geological heritage of the Geopark includes outstanding mineralogical and paleontological features, like abundant dinosaur trackways of theropods and  sauropodes, geomorphologic sites like the Jurassic limestone bridge Pont d’Imin Ifri, or waterfalls, and impressive conglomerate cliffs. There is also ample evidence of human occupation since prehistoric times including  rock art  and artifacts. Its rich cultural heritage bears witness to the centuries-old presence of the Amazigh (Berber) people with typical traditional architecture and granaries.

Lands of Knights Global Geopark

Located in the Trás-os-Montes region in northern Portugal, the Terras de Cavaleiros Global Geopark includes geosites that document an important stage of the history of the planet. The cultural highlight of the area is the Careto religious ritual during the carnival feast, which dates back to prehistoric times, and is characterized by diabolic and mysterious figures.

El Hierro Global Geopark

This Geopark covers the entire island of El Hierro, the smallest, westernmost and youngest of the Canary Islands archipelago, formed less than 1.12 million years ago. It is among the best representations of a single volcanic island and includes three authentic landscapes of major geological significance. The volcanic geology is clearly visible and facilitates study and tourism.

Molina and Alto Tajo Global Geopark

This Geopark is located in the Castile–La Mancha region of Spain, about 200 km north-east of Madrid. Geographically, the region of Molina is part of the southern Iberian plateau between, the river Ebro to the north and the Tagus River to the south. The area has been inhabited since ancient times, and includes important samples of Palaeolithic rock art and Celtiberian fortresses that have provided valuable information about the Celtberian culture.