Proposed geopark project takes next step

by EVAN MATTHEWS

Plans for the proposed Wells Gray-North Thompson and Robson Valley Global UNESCO designated Geopark are gaining momentum.

The Regional District of Thompson-Nicola requested a $2,000 grant from the Regional District of Fraser- Fort George (RDFFG) at its last meeting, in order to develop a plan for the proposal.

“The key things to come out of this (developing) plan are: what approach needs to be taken in order to obtain a UNESCO Geopark designation? And then what are all the requirements related to maintaining that status,” says Kenna Jonkman, manager of development services for the RDFFG.

UNESCO Geopark status has a higher level of protection than a provincial park, according to Jonkman, as global attention is given to UNESCO sites — and the benefits are related to ecotourism.

“This is really about exploring what this opportunity may look like,” says Jonkman.

The area of the proposed Geopark, according to the RDFFG, runs from Barriere, up to Valemount, and then to the east toward Mount Robson.

The proposed designated area is focused on the North Thompson Valley, the Canoe Valley, and portions of the Robson Valley, according to Jonkman, adding part of the UNESCO designation would overlap with Wells Gray Provincial Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park.

The biggest factors in moving the project forward, at least according to the involved regional districts, is to assess what financial implications and sustainability will look like — assessing the short-term and long-term costs associated with the project.

While Wells Gray-North Thompson, the Robson Valley and the RDFFG are mobilizing their efforts for a UNESCO Geopark site, this isn’t the first mention of such a designation in the Robson Valley this year.

In July, University of Northern British Columbia researcher, Darwyn Coxson, said he and the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation were working together in order to have Chun T’oh Wudujut Provincial Park designated as a UNESCO site.

Though Coxson, nor the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation have advanced those efforts, Coxson said in July, when comparing other wet temperate rainforests around the world with a UNESCO designation — much of the Ancient Forest (and Robson Valley) have similar qualities.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District is the leading agency on the most recent project, according to Jonkman, and the timeline as the RDFFG understands it would suggest the implementation plan and cost assessment could be done as early as December or January.

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