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Plans move ahead for North Thompson 'geopark'

Federal government invites World Heritage site submissions
By Mike Youds
August 9, 2016 10:09 A.M.
Mountains of Wells Gray from Murtle Lake.

Plans are moving ahead to have a vast area of the North Thompson corridor declared a “geopark,” seen as an incremental step toward eventual recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Still, Cathy Hickson, a volcanologist and one of those spearheading the initiative, was glad to learn that the federal government is inviting new submissions for world heritage sites.

Hickson met recently with the TNRD, which is pursuing potential funding to study potential for a geopark, and said she will be co-ordinating an effort among colleagues to tell the geological story.

UNESCO Global Geoparks are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.

“Really, it’s all about the geology that underlies the geography,” Hickson said. “Connecting people to the Earth in terms of how it affects their living experience … This is actually a place where these little micro-continents were plastered onto B.C.,” she added, referring to the continent-building forces of plate tectonics.

About five years ago, a community initiative took root in the Clearwater Valley to seek World Heritage Site status for Wells Gray Provincial Park. Trevor Goward, a retired lichenologist helped start the initiative.

“The way to put it is that there is no advertising money you can buy that would make so many people aware of this area,” Goward said, citing threats to the area from resource extraction. He has long maintained that the natural heritage of the area deserves greater protection from both an ecological and economic standpoint.

Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change, announced Monday that for the first time in more than a decade, the government will consider setting aside more areas. 

Communities are invited to  to nominate what they feel are Canada’s most exceptional places to Canada’s tentative list for World Heritage Sites as a way to celebrate Canada’s heritage. 

Canada’s new nominees as UNESCO World Heritage Sites will be announced in 2017 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Geopark status for the North Thompson is seen as a more easily attainable status towards eventual World Heritage recognition. Conceivably, the geopark would extend from Valemount south to Barriere.

Hickson said local scientists, including retired Kamloops geologist Ed Frey and TRU geography professor Crystal Huscroft, will be collaborating on a public document that will look at the geological nature of the corridor beyond Wells Gray.

“Wells Gray is well described, but what we need to do now is expand that to the corridor,” Hickson said.

Ron Storie, director of community services with the TNRD, said the whole concept of UNESCO recognition has grown since the idea took hold. He said the regional district is pursuing long-term funding for up to five years and hopes to engage as many North Thompson communities as possible in order to prove the case to senior government funders.

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