Group hopes to establish geopark based on Bay of Islands geology

Gary Kean
Published on June 11, 2014

If there can be a national park named after the second-highest mountain in Newfoundland, then why not an international park named after the highest?

That’s the simple question being asked by Paul Wylezol and others intent on establishing the Cabox Global Geopark in western Newfoundland.

The idea behind the proposal is to draw more attention to the interesting geographical features found in the area known as the Bay of Islands ophiolites. The ophiolites are the four distinct mountain clusters to the north and south of the Bay of Islands where the earth’s mantle and oceanic crust protrude with their distinct rust-colored hues.

One of those ophiolites, The Tablelands is already included in Gros Morne National Park, but the other three — the North Arm Hills, the Blow-Me-Down Mountains and the Lewis Hills — are not.

Wylezol, chairperson of the International Appalachian Trail, hosted an information session in Corner Brook Tuesday that outlined the efforts being made to have the Bay of Islands ophiolites be the centrepiece for the Cabox Global Geopark.

The Cabox refers to the highest mountain on the island of Newfoundland, which is found within the Lewis Hills. At 815 metres, the Cabox rises about nine metres higher from sea level than does Gros Morne Mountain.

The geographical boundary has been outlined and partnerships have been forged with various organizations and nearly all communities within the proposed park.

The next stage, said Wylezol, is to write a letter of intent that goes into more detail of the proposal and to submit that to the Canadian Geopark Association.

“In order to be a member of the Global Geopark, we have to first be a member of a national or continental association,” explained Wylezol.

It may take two or three more years before the Cabox Global Geopark can be established.

The idea is to seek designation from UNESCO for the geopark as a World Heritage Site.

Hugh Barron, sector manager with the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, Scotland, gave a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting. He helped establish a geopark in Scotland in 2003 and said that process began with a meeting similar to this one in Corner Brook.

That geopark was established just 18 months later,

“The process now is a bit more complicated and it’s likely going to take a little longer because geoparks now really need to be up and running before they can apply to UNESCO for status,” noted Barron.

Barron went through what is required to set up a geopark. The Cabox Global Geopark idea already has one of the most important factors: a geological heritage of international significance.

“You have that here with the Cabox area and the ophiolites,” he said. “Really, it’s the best ophiolite complex in the world.”

Besides the geology, a geopark would also have to demonstrate that it can become a sustainable tourist attraction that the local residents have taken ownership of and are committed to protecting. That means the park should be an educational resource for all ages, include all relevant local culture and history in its promotion and contain adequate tourism infrastructure so people can access it.

A geopark designation does not require any act of legislation, like a national park or other protected area would.

“It’s not imposed on people,” said Barron. “People have to want a geopark to make it work.”