New Brunswick’s Stonehammer North America’s first geopark

A geopark showcases our geological heritage through educational programs and sustainable tourism

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SAINT JOHN, NB Aug 24, 2015/ Troy Media/ – There is in the southern part of New Brunswick on Canada’s east coast a type of park that is unique in North America. Covering a huge area of 2,500 square kilometres (965 square miles) over several counties, “Stonehammer” is a geopark. It is not only the scale that is impressive but the concept of a geopark is an interesting international initiative less than 15 years old.

What is a Global Geopark? Under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a global geopark is an area designated to showcase our geological heritage through educational programs and sustainable tourism. The world’s geopark network consists of 100 such areas committed to setting standards for tourism and development of a region through international exchanges and co-operation.

Although promoted internationally by UNESCO, geoparks require national initiatives from individual countries. This has resulted in a somewhat strange distribution of official geoparks across the globe. China has 29, France four, Spain eight, Italy nine, United Kingdom six, Norway two, Vietnam one, Brazil one and so on. The U.S. has none and in Canada there is only Stonehammer in New Brunswick.

It is important to note that geoparks are not only about geology. Quite the contrary, they have large cultural components that broaden their appeal considerably. In addition, the designated park, unlike parks with city, state or national status, does not cover a solid block of 2,500 square kilometers. Instead, it encompasses sites or nodes of attraction in the area situated within the region’s infrastructure of cities, roads, farms and so on. So what does the visitor see in the Stonehammer experience?

There are plenty of geological sites with billion-year-old rocks, more recent glacial deposits, fossils and unusual “flowerpot” rock pillars shaped by tidal action. Situated along the Bay of Fundy, one of Stonehammer’s attractions is the high tides that raise and drop the sea level many metres each day. Indeed, so powerful is the tidal force that it temporarily can reverse the flow of the St. John River to the ocean.

Stonehammer also contains smaller parks within its boundaries and two of these are worth a special mention. The “Fundy Trail” is a 16 km (10 mile) stretch of coastal wilderness with its many scenic overlooks accessible by car, by bike or on foot. Meanwhile, the “Irving Nature Park” is a privately-owned 600 acre (243 hectare) peninsula jutting into the Bay of Fundy. Open to the public from May to October without admission charges, it can be experienced by car or on foot. The two sites provide opportunities to see tidal pools, shore birds, wildlife and rocky beaches set against an Acadian Forest dominated by evergreens.

On the cultural side, there’s an integration of the human hand into the geopark concept. The region’s many rivers are crossed by old-fashioned covered wooden bridges in some places and by toll-free car ferries in others. The more adventurous can cross the St. John River via a commercial zip-line operation. Guided tours and kayak adventure outings are also available. The New Brunswick Museum, located in the city of Saint John, is an original partner of the Stonehammer Project and contributes its geological and marine displays to the endeavour. For refreshments, try the geopark special menu at Lilly’s Restaurant in scenic Rockwood Park, also in the city of Saint John.

The Stonehammer Geopark is a project covering a large area and which integrates several pre-existing parks, attractions and programs into its framework. Through educational outreach and schools programs it teaches an appreciation of our natural, especially geological, heritage. It is an effort to bring more tourists and revenues to a region in a sustainable way that will improve the lifestyle of the local inhabitants.

The geopark concept is relatively new and has not yet caught on in North America. Stonehammer is a first one in eastern Canada well worth visiting. Indeed, let’s hope some enthusiastic travelers will like what they see and initiate similar geopark projects elsewhere in North America.

| Fred Donnelly

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