Bay of Islands geopark working toward lucrative UNESCO designation
Committee of volunteers seeking UNESCO seal to put the area on the world tourism map
A team of volunteers is working to achieve an all-important United Nations designation for a geopark in the Bay of Islands, on Newfoundland's west coast.
Rob Thomas, vice-chair of the Cabox Geopark, says to get a lucrative stamp from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the geopark must prove its geological importance.
"In order to get into the club, you have to have distinctive geology. And we have that," said Thomas.
"The Corner Brook-Bay of Islands area is absolutely the epicentre for the theory of plate tectonics. We have maps on the wall that prove this and it's very exciting stuff. People like to learn about the area when they come to have dinner or go on a boat tour."
Thomas co-owns Saltbox Restaurant, tucked between the scenic mountains in the Bay of Islands and the fish plant in Benoit's Cove. The restaurant features a Cabox Geopark information centre.
The business also provides Zodiac tours of the Bay of Islands.
"One nice thing about the geopark, we are able to incorporate the geology into our tours, and tell people this rock does this and this process happened here and people really like that," he said.
Thomas and a committee of volunteers are seeking the UNESCO designation, to put the area on the world tourism map.
"What we are trying to do is highlight the geology and all the great features the west coast has to offer," he said.
The geopark will not only focus on the unique tectonic plates but the culture and history of the area as well. Thomas says it will highlight the Wood's Island resettlement and the traditional boatbuilding as well as the scenic hikes and boat tours.
The Cabox Geopark is partnering with researchers at the University of Alberta to prove the area has geological importance. Data compilation was scheduled for this summer, but COVID-19 travel restrictions have postponed the work.
Thomas says the designation will change tourism for the entire area surrounding Corner Brook.
"Not only our business but everyone else's business. There are a travelling group of people that come to UNESCO products. Gros Morne National Park is well known, Terra Nova is well known. There are people that search out that product," he said.
"Having the designation gives the west coast the opportunity to drive more traffic. We all want more traffic. We want more people in our hotels, we want more people in our restaurants, There is no better way to do that than with that UNESCO stamp."
Thomas said the UNESCO status will not change land use in the Bay of Islands, a popular place for boating, hiking and snowmobiling.
"One nice thing about the geopark brand is there are no land use issues, there [are] no ownership issues. We still promote conservation and environmental stewardship," he said.
"We are not going to say you can't go here or here. I think it's great for the whole area if we embrace this UNESCO branding."