CLEARWATER — When is a park not a park?
When it’s a geopark.
A group of local government and First Nations politicians and staff were told Friday (Jan. 29, 2016) that a plan to establish a global geopark centered on Wells Gray Provincial Park — “the jewel in the crown —needs community champions to take it to the next level.
North Thompson TNRD directors and council members and Simpcw First Nation councillors were meeting in the Dutch Lake Community Centre for their annual Community to Community consultation.
Jennifer Houiellebecq of Tourism Planning Group Inc. told the gathering the geopark proposal has been envisioned as taking in the region between McBride and Barriere, but broached the idea of asking Kamloops to be a part.
That would mean Electoral Area P, which extends roughly from Barriere to Kamloops, might also become a partner. However, no discussions have been held either with Area P or the City of Kamloops.
“Why not just simplify it, look at it as the North Thompson Valley down to Kamloops and bring Kamloops into the picture?” Houiellebecq said.
A geopark is a UNESCO-designated area in which geological heritage is protected. Canada has two other global geoparks, one at Tumbler Ridge and one at Stonehammer, New Brunswick.
TNRD Chair John Ranta said there are too many unanswered questions about the geographical area. “We’re biting off too much to chew and we’re going to choke on it,” he suggested.
But Myles Bruns, Thompson-Okanagan regional manager for the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, said the proposed geopark would be a park in name only, not in reality.
“It is not a park, it’s a marketing term. It allows us to market to a huge international market,” he said, adding that the geopark would not be legislated.
Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine questioned the estimated two- to four-per-cent increase in visitors, which could mean 20,000 more people visiting the area within five years.
If it’s only two to four per cent, “Why do it?” he asked, saying it would have to be 20 to 30 per cent to be worthwhile.
Bruns said comparisons show the increase in visitors would be higher than the number in the report.
“It’s going to lead to an increase in tourism, there’s no doubt about it,” Houiellebecq said. “It will give the North Thompson corridor a higher profile.”
She said based on the Stonehammer geopark, the annual cost would be about $197,000 but that doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in costs for the participating partners. It would require repositioning marketing dollars, she said. “It’s just a different way of doing business.”
The group passed a motion supporting the concept in principle and picking a smaller group to meet with North Thompson MLA Terry Lake.
Coun. Tina Donald of Simpcw said her council “fully supports” the idea and has already contributed $10,000 to the initiative.
Several steps would have to be taken at the local, provincial and international levels before creation of the as-yet-unnamed geopark is approved.