Mistaken disappointment: Hundreds turned away from new UNESCO site last year

The opposition says Mistaken Point won't be ready to handle the influx of new visitors now that it's been internationally recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Confusion from ministers over status of extra staff needed

Mistaken Point became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016. (UNESCO)

The opposition says Mistaken Point won't be ready to handle the influx of new visitors now that it's been internationally recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Keith Hutchings, the PC MHA representing the area, said government hasn't filled the new positions needed to handle the new visitors expected ths summer after turning away hundreds of people last year.

"The season is quick approaching and we don't have any of those positions approved. Someone's really got to ask who's overseeing this," Hutchings said.

He said four new positions were advertised but are sitting on hold.

He said last year 700 people tried to visit the site after UNESCO recognized the area as a world heritage site in July but were turned away.

The ecological reserve features some of the oldest complex life forms found anywhere on earth.

Any visitors to the site need to be escorted by staff to preserve the fossils.

Last year those tours were free, but this year the province will charge $20 a person to visit the site.

2 ministers, lots of confusion

Responsibility for Mistaken Point is split between two ministers.

Christopher Mitchelmore is minister of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation. He's responsible for parks and for marketing the area for tourism, but because Mistaken Point is an ecological reserve staffing isn't his department.

He was the first minister to speak to reporters after the PCs raised the issue in Question Period in the House of Assembly on Wednesday.

"At this point, I would not be able to make a comment because this is a budgetary matter," he said, telling reporters they'd have to ask the minister of Fisheries and Land Resources.

Neither Christopher Mitchelmore nor Steve Crocker were able to answer questions about how many new staff government would hire to deal with visitors to Mistaken Point. (Gary Locke/CBC)

That department's minister, Steve Crocker, also referenced the budget.

"Any jobs is a budgetary consideration," he said when asked about whether the department has delayed hiring new staff.

Except the jobs in question had already been approved, not part of any new budget proposals and when pressed he admitted he didn't know what's happening with those jobs.

"To my knowledge at this point, I haven't seen where they were advertised," he said, saying he's still studying up on the new portfolio.

"Last week we had the changes to the department and we're still working through a lot of this, there is a transition period," he said.

Crocker wasn't sure how many new staff would be needed, but insisted there won't be a repeat of last summer when hundreds were turned away.

"We'll make sure that the proper staffing levels are in place to accommodate the tourists who want to see this attraction," he said.

Department is hiring 3 new staff

It took a note later in the day from staff to clear up the confusion.

The department is hiring three new staff — a full-time interpreter, a full-time park ranger and a seasonal park ranger — and filling the jobs is not on hold.

"These positions are continuing through the screening process," Vanessa Colman-Sadd, the department's director of communications, said in an e-mail.

Meanwhile, Keith Hutchings is still left wondering whether the site will be ready for new visitors when it opens this year.

"Right now it appears we're not," he said.


Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.