N.B. group seeks UNESCO geopark status

The city of Saint John has given a group the go-ahead in getting the United Nations to recognize the city and surrounding area for its unique geology.

If request is granted it would be first such park in North America

Saint John has given a group the go-ahead in getting the United Nations to recognize the New Brunswick city and surrounding area for its unique geology.

City council voted Monday night to support the Stonehammer committee's bid to establish a UNESCO geopark in the area extending from Lepreau to the Fundy Trail, and inland to the Norton Fossil Field.

Already the province supports the bid, having donated $25,000 to the application in October.

If the group succeeds, the land in question would be the first UNESCO geopark in North America, a term used to describe a section of land given special geological heritage designation.

There are 64 geoparks in the world in such countries as Italy, Norway and Iran.

Bill Merrifield, chair of the Stonehammer committee, said the distinction would equal more visitors to the area.

"You could have people, first of all, who would come here simply because we are designated as UNESCO," Merrifield told CBC News. "There are a number of UNESCO-philes in the world that as soon as you hit the website, they're here. They make a practice of trotting the world to see all these different places.

"We're a little bit unique in that we have a lot of geology [and] a billion years of stories within our immediate geographic area. It's quite exciting for people who are into that."

Visible rock formations once part of Africa

Though years in the making, Merrifield said his group moved its UNESCO application up to this year to avoid a holdup anticipated in 2010.

"If we'd missed the cutoff we'd be another year and we'd then be in competition with other provinces in Canada who are just beginning to come to life on this stuff," Merrifield said.

Committee member Randy Miller, curator of geology at the New Brunswick Museum, says the Saint John area is a logical place for a geopark.

Visible rock formations here had once been part of Africa, Miller said.

"They have a billion-year history of being formed in the southern hemisphere, drifting across the globe and attaching themselves to North America," he said. "You can see evidence of continental drift and plate tectonics at the Reversing Falls."

The Saint John geopark proposal will be presented to UNESCO in Malaysia in April.