6 February 2008

Saint John Could Become First Geopark in North America

A community group has come together to investigate the feasibility of making an application for Greater Saint John to become the first UNESCO Geopark in North America. This international Geopark designation could have a major impact on the local economy and provide significant growth in the tourism industry.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) oversees the Global Network of National Geoparks. A 'Geopark' is a geographical area where geological heritage sites are part of a system of protection, education and sustainable development. This also includes sites of ecological, archaeological, historical or cultural value. Key components of a Geopark include the size and setting; management and local involvement; economic development; education; protection and conservation.

Under the umbrella of UNESCO, important national geological sites gain worldwide recognition and profit through the exchange of knowledge, expertise, experience and staff with other Geoparks. Since the launching of the Global Network in 2004, 53 Geoparks in 17 countries have received this designation. To date, no Geoparks have been approved in North America.

Dr. Randall Miller, Curator of Geology and Palaeontology at the New Brunswick Museum, has been investigating the geological heritage and the history of geological study in the Greater Saint John area. This research work has been funded in part by the Community University Research Alliance (CURA) project “Saint John: An Industrial City in Transition”. The research has also received support from the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund and other foundations.

Based on his research, Dr. Miller believes the Greater Saint John area would have an excellent chance to be designated a UNESCO Geopark. This designation recognizes significant geological areas that have public and tourism appeal, and provides international recognition of their importance. The proposed Geopark area would extend from Lepreau Falls to Norton, and Fundy Trail to the Kingston Peninsula.

Dr. Miller states, "The rocks in the Saint John area alone record about a billion years of earth history. There are fascinating rock formations and sites that are significant in understanding the fossil record of life.” Dr. Miller has discovered that the long history of exploration of this area by geologists is also significant. He notes that “the science of geology began to develop in the early 1800s. Geologists were working here and making important discoveries in the 1830s, so what happened here is really key to the development of the geological sciences." He suggests that developing this project would be a great Canadian contribution to the 2008 International Year of Planet Earth.

Much of the scientific basis for this application is available within the New Brunswick Museum's staff and collections; however, such an application must be led and supported by the community. Gail Bremner, from Aquila Tours, is leading the Geopark community group driving this initiative forward. “This is a very exciting opportunity for our region. When we obtain the Geopark designation from UNESCO (I know we will) it will be a stamp of approval that is well recognized in the global market and can only mean good things for our economy.”

For further information

Gail Bremner

Aquila Tours

(506) 631-0143

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