Overlander Falls Hike near Mt Robson
Overlander Falls Hike near Mt Robson

By: Korie Marshall

The steering committee for a global geopark between Mount Robson and Wells Gray is holding some open houses in the Robson and Thompson valleys next week. Their plan is to share information about how a geopark can benefit the communities, and to gather information about what we want included in the geopark.

Myles Bruns is the regional manager for the economic development with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. He says it’s on his personal “bucket list” to see the geopark project happen if it makes sense for the communities involved, but what he really needs is help figuring out what should be included.

“This is community led – we can make the map,” says Bruns. He’s looking for people who know the history of the area, those who know the out-of-the-way spots and the amazing features, and he wants to share ideas about how a geopark could improve economic development.

Geoparks are affiliated with UNESCO, but the Global Geopark Network doesn’t involve legislative changes, or affect land management decisions, says Jennifer Houiellebecq of the Tourism Planning Group. She is the ministry’s consultant for the Wells Gray North Thompson-Robson Valley global geopark project. She says a geopark would increase the profile and visitor awareness of some of the unique places and experiences we have for people around the world.

“It’s really about sustainable tourism, increasing profile and visitor interest in the area,” says Houiellebecq. Wells Gray and Mt. Robson would be the anchors, but there are also things like the Ancient Forest, an inland temperate rainforest that is globally significant in terms of biodiversity. It could be included in the geopark if locals support that, she says. People travel in the corridors in BC, and a global geopark could help give them a reason to stay in our corridor longer.

Bruns says we could draw a map of the park, and then when potential visitors check out the geopark website, they could drill down and see what else there is of interest in the area. Visitors could easily get off the plane in Kamloops, plan stays and excursions all along the North Thompson and Robson valleys, right up to the Ancient Forest, and then fly out of Prince George two or three weeks later. It would mean people are stopping in our communities, and spending money in the local economy.

The Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training is spearheading the project as part of the McBride to Barriere Corridor economic development project. The pursuit of geopark status was identified as a strategic priority in the North Thompson Valley Tourism Plan for 2013-14 and both Valemount and McBride Councils have shown interest. The project steering committee is made up of representatives from Simpcw First Nation, Barriere, Clearwater, Sun Peaks, Valemount, McBride, Thompson-Nicola and Fraser-Fort George regional districts, Tourism Wells Gray, Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and Thompson Rivers University.

There are over 100 geoparks in the world, including two in Canada. Tumbler Ridge was named the second in Canada in September 2014.

Open houses are planned for McBride, Valemount, Clearwater and Simpcw First Nation next week, to make the community aware of the opportunities and benefits and to try to galvanize interest, says Houiellebecq. They are also to help identify potential “geosites” – those geological, cultural or ecologically significant places that we as locals know about, but may not be on the maps, says Bruns. The Valemount open house is March 4th, from 1-3pm at the Visitor Information Centre and the McBride open house is set for Thursday March 5th, from 9:30-11:30am at the Robson Valley community Centre.