If the enthusiasm of UNESCO’s evaluators is any indication, backers of the Cliffs of Fundy Aspiring Global Geopark project may have hit it out of the park.
Asier Hilario of the Basque region of Spain and Global Geopark Network president Nikolaos Zouros of Greece arrived in the area on Friday for three days or touring from Cape Chignecto near Advocate through to Parrsboro and Economy as part of their evaluation of the project for UNESCO designation for the Cliffs of Fundy initiative.
There are 147 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 41 countries. If successful, the Aspring Cliffs of Fundy would be Nova Scotia’s first and Canada’s fourth after Stonehammer in New Brunswick, British Columbia’s Tumbler Ridge and Perce in Quebec.
There are eight Canadian geopark applications being prepared.
“It was very interesting and productive. We have seen some very amazing landscapes,” Zouros said during a visit to Cape d’Or near Advocate Harbour on Saturday. “This place, to me, is a very special place. “This is my second visit here, but first as an evaluator and I had an opportunity to visit many more sites and get a better understanding of the area.
“This area and especially this place is something for everybody, not just the scientists. It’s a place where everyone can understand the forces of our planet that shape the landscapes and create all this natural beauty, which is unique.”
Zouros said the area is valuable for education and helping society understand the history of the earth. Nature provided this landscape, he said, and it’s up to today’s society and future generations to understand how important the area is and how people should safeguard and interpret its unique geological features.
“We have to make it accessible, not only in walking, but in understanding. By doing this we can save this unique landscape for future generations.”
Hilario said he knew he was coming to a special place because the Bay of Fundy is world-renowned to geologists.
“Now that I'm here I’m even more excited with what I’ve seen with the power of nature and the beauty of nature,” Hilario said. “It’s so impressive, not only because of the cliffs and their history, but mainly the power of the tides that shape the cliffs every day.”
Hilario said he was impressed with the community engagement associated with the project from a welcoming reception in Parrsboro on Friday that included all members of the community as well as strong showing of Indigenous culture and how they were received throughout their visit.
“I’m very appreciative of the involvement of the Indigenous community and their support of the project,” he said. “We like what we have seen.”
The visit to the area concludes Monday when the two scientists will take time to put their thoughts on paper. Their recommendation will go a UNESCO conference in Italy in September.
A decision on the successful geopark applications is expected to be made public next spring.
John Calder, the senior geologist with Nova Scotia’s Lands and Forestry Department, likened the evaluation to a final exam that everyone in the community has been preparing for.
“It has been very intense,” Calder said. “For me it has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and getting goosebumps when you share how special this place is with the people who are coming to see the area.”
Most of all, Calder said, he has been “blown away” with the support of the communities for the geopark proposal and how it has been all hands on deck.
“I can’t get over how much support there’s been from everyone, not just from the committee who has been working on this, but the people in the restaurants, the young people and the community. To me, it’s their geopark and that’s what’s the most moving of this experience to me.”
Tim Fedak, the curator of geology for the Nova Scotia Museum and the former curator of the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro, said the geopark application is so important to the entire Fundy shore in Cumberland and Colchester, but also to Nova Scotia and Canada.
“For me, a lot of the people along the shore recognize the beauty and specialness of this place. The geopark designation would raise it to an international level,” Fedak said. “We would be sharing our story and our cultural sites, the geology and the kayaking opportunities across the country, but internationally. It raises the bar a lot.”
He can so much opportunity for community-driven initiatives such as Parrsboro Creative’s Plein Air Festival in June. That organization, he said, could take part its exhibit and show it in Greece, or Spain, or anywhere to show the geopark to the rest of the world.
Anne Grabinsky, owner-operator of Nova Shores Adventures Sea Kayaking, sees geopark designation having a huge impact on tourism.
“From a tourism operator point of view, people come here because they know about the remoteness and ruggedness of the area, but often they don’t know about the geology and how spectacular it is. When people come, I often try to communicate with them before they come to stay for a while. It’s really worth it. Afterwards I often hear people say if they’d only known more about this area. They often say it’s the highlight of their visit to Nova Scotia.”
She believes geopark designation will connect the entire shore from Joggins, to Advocate Harbour, to Parrsboro, to Five Islands and Economy.