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  • Godfrey Nowlan

Geoparks Connect People and Place

Geoparks are new to Canada. They are not like our existing municipal, provincial or federal parks which are decreed by the appropriate level of government. Instead, they are created by the communities of people who live in the geopark as a means of revitalizing their local economy through education and geotourism. The geopark celebrates the local geology, and how it affected local cultural and economic development. It is an area that includes geological heritage of international significance.

Geoparks conserve the geoheritage and use it for educational and tourism purposes, to promote awareness of Earth processes and highlight key issues facing society in the context of our dynamic planet. However, Geoparks aren’t just about geology, they also include sites with interesting archaeology, wildlife and habitats, history, folklore and culture, all of which are intricately linked with the underlying geology and the culture of the people who live in the area.

Canada has two Global Geoparks: Stonehammer Global Geopark in southern New Brunswick and Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark in northern British Columbia. There are also a host of aspiring geoparks across Canada, which are communities, or groups of communities, that are working together to create inventories of geoheritage (geology sites) in their area and develop educational and tourist opportunities. The opportunities are based on the geoheritage itself or on the local culture as it developed in response to the Earth features and processes in the region. Perhaps there is an aspiring geopark near you, in which you could become involved.

In the course of establishing a geopark, people within its boundaries become more familiar with the underlying reasons for why their community’s landscape looks the way it does. They also discover the connections between the geological history of their region and the economic opportunities it has enjoyed since the area was occupied by humans. Local culture and economy are likely to have been affected by the location of resources (including food, water, energy and minerals). The quality and distribution of soil, which is the product the result of geological processes, will affect the nature of the agricultural economy. Even the location of basic facilities and settlements will have been dictated by features of the landscape.

Sometimes the underlying causes of the way the landscape looks are affected by geological processes that happened long ago, the evidence for which is below the ground surface. It is by exploring these connections that people make a link between place and culture and they discover things that they did not know before. In the end, they become proud of their community and its particular landscapes and work to protect it for future generations, while at the same time creating new, sustainable economic activity that allows more of them to live and work in their community. This is a great win-win, especially for areas that off the currently beaten path of tourism.

Geoparks are undergoing a transition. There are more than one hundred geoparks worldwide and all of these have been created under the auspices of the Global Geoparks Network (GGN) which developed the processes by which areas for global geoparks are assessed. The GGN was always supported by UNESCO but later in 2015, the member states of UNESCO will vote on a proposal to create a UNESCO Global Geoparks Programme that would formalize a UNESCO status and process for existing and new global geoparks. See what is happening with geoparks at UNESCO here.

Godfrey Nowlan was a geologist and paleontologist with the Geological Survey of Canada until he retired in 2013. He has a long record of developing projects to improve Earth Science literacy and is currently helping to develop Global Geoparks in Canada.

Views expressed in blog posts reflect those of the author, and not necessarily those of the CFES.