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By Korie Marshall

From Mount Robson to Wells Gray Park, our region is full of rich geological and cultural assets and biodiversity. Designating this area a UNESCO Global Geopark could bring recognition, and an increase in a different kind of visitor.

The Barriere to McBride Tourism Steering Committee met in Valemount Jan. 28th to discuss options in pursuing Global Geopark status, supported by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Global Geopark is a newer designation and a less stringent application process than UNESCO’s better-known World Heritage Site, but since the idea started in 1999, there are Geoparks in more than 30 countries, including one here in Canada – Stonehammer Geopark in New Brunswick. Geoparks have been shown to raise awareness and increase visitors to a region.

The Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Development is spearheading the McBride to Barriere Corridor economic development project. A spokesperson from the Ministry says the pursuit of Geopark status was identified as a strategic priority in the North Thompson Valley Tourism Plan for 2013-14. The Ministry says the proposed Geopark would be a collection of sites including core attractions like Wells Gray Park and Mount Robson as well as other sites of geological, biological and cultural importance.

Gaining Geopark status is a long process that requires substantial financial commitment and partnerships, says the ministry, so the steering committee is looking at phased approach which may see Wells Gray Park as the “flagship” of the Geopark with other “satellite” sites throughout the region. A phased approach will also help ensure there is benefit for the region and a return on investment. They are hoping to be ready for the 2015 intake for Geopark assessment.

The ministry says the project will require a lot of community engagement, both to identify significant sites and to gauge support for the project. Land use and site management issues will need to be discussed, as well as identifying business opportunities and impacts of the designation.

Committing to the Geopark will require collaboration with communities, Regional Districts, and post secondary institutions and the two tourism associations, Northern BC Tourism and Thompson Okanagan Tourism Associations. The ministry says it will also require significant financial contributions, as the cost of acquiring status is estimated anywhere between $100,000 and $500,000.

However the Geopark designation could bring significant profile to the region, a Ministry spokesperson says, which could mean investment as well as tourism visits.