The work has been done and the tours complete. Now comes the hardest part.
Between July 26 and 28 a pair of evaluators from UNESCO were at various locations along the Fundy shore in Cumberland and Colchester counties to evaluate the Cliffs of Fundy Aspiring Global Geopark proposal for UNESCO designation.
Over the four-day period, Asier Hilario of the Basque region of Spain and Nikolaos Zouros of Greece met with project supporters as well as community members from Apple River to Debert to determine what the area has to offer and if it’s worth of being named the list of geoparks around the world.
“All we can do is wait and continue moving forward as if we’re going to be successful,” Cliffs of Fundy steering committee co-ordinator Marlee Leslie said. “We were very happy with how the evaluation went and the evaluators seemed taken by the beauty of the area and the amount of work that went into this initiative.”
The two scientists will bring their recommendation forward to a UNESCO meeting in Indonesia in September and whether or not the park makes the list of geoparks will be made official next April. She’s optimistic they will get news following the conference in September.
“I think we did everything we could,” she said. “We put a lot of effort into every detail to ensure that they were wowed in everything we had to offer. I feel confident they walked away feeling wow, this is a special area.”
John Calder, senior geologist with Energy and Mines Nova Scotia, said the entire weekend was an emotional rollercoaster, but he feels everything that could’ve been done to sell the geopark was accomplished.
“At first, as we drove the evaluators from the airport and the evaluators talked about possible weaknesses I thought oh no, this is going to go sideways. Once they saw the rocks and the helicopter flight along the geopark, setting down on Isle Haute, banking around Cape Chignecto and looking up the bay to see the power of the tides changed it,” Calder said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but after I came to realize they were virtually speechless with what they saw.”
After the helicopter tour on Day 1, Calder said both Hilario and Zouros suggested someone has to start up a helicopter tour business because it truly shows the scope of the coastline and what it has to offer to visitors.
“Dr. Zouros, the head of the global geoparks network, said he has been all over the world evaluating geoparks, including Iguazu Falls in South America, and he said flying over the Bay of Fundy was more profound than that,” Calder said. “That’s just one element.”
In the end, he said, the experience could not have gone any better “from the people, to the weather, to the place itself.”
Calder said the face the community along the shore is so committed to the project scored points with the evaluators. Both told Calder they’d been to areas where just the committee or a small group of people met them, but the opening night event at the Hall in Parrsboro on July 26 gave the tour the start it needed – especially the Indigenous participation.
“Here, everywhere they went, whether it was at a restaurant or park staff working overtime at Five Islands, they were blown away because it showed what the geopark means to the people,” Calder said. “That was important, maybe even more important than the geology.”
The experience reminded him something he wrote years ago.
“Three hundred million years ago the continents came together to form Pangea. Two hundred million years ago, in the age of dinosaurs, the continents were ripped apart creating the modern world. We tell that story better than no one else in the world,” he said. “When I wrote that I said that’s going to be challenged, but no one has challenged that statement. It is true. It’s something spectacular that we have. That’s part of the reason why the geopark is so important.”
Calder sees the Cliffs of Fundy as having the “potential” to be one of the best, if not the best, geopark in the world. However, he said there are a lot of pieces that still have to be put into place and he does not want to pre-judge the UNESCO evaluators when they make their recommendation to a conference in Indonesia in September.
Calder is not taking anything for granted, but he’s very hopeful and optimistic. Between now and then, he said, the work will continue.
“It’s not a case of saying we’ve done everything, let’s pack up the signs and go home. We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “They gave us a shopping list of insightful ideas from their experiences around the world. How to be sustainable, to grow businesses around the geopark and more meaningful to the people in the area. We have a huge map of where to go to reach that potential.”
There are presently three global geoparks in Canada, including Tumbler Ridge, Stonehammer and Percé and seven in both North and South America with two in Mexico, one in Uruguay and one in Brazil.
Prior to coming to Nova Scotia, Zouros and an evaluator from Japan visited the Discovery Aspiring Geopark near Bonavista, N.L. from July 21 to 25.
Editor’s Note: In an earlier story it was reported the UNESCO meeting in September is in Italy. That was the location of the 2018 meeting.