It seems to be a feature of human nature to take for granted the places most familiar to us – even if the places most familiar to us are, from any other vantage, places of international significance.
Since 1978, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been encouraging the world’s nations to identify and protect places of great cultural and natural heritage, defined as sites considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. Such places may become candidates for formal status as Global Geoparks or even as World Heritage Sites.
The Wells Gray World Heritage Committee (WGWHC) is working to achieve World Heritage Site status for Wells Gray Provincial Park – a vast wilderness area that encompasses an astonishing array of natural features, including a world class legacy of volcanic – ice contact landforms. In so doing, we seek both to encourage land-use decisions concordant with its wilderness and other values, and to promote the integration of those values into the social and economic fabric of nearby communities.
Eight hundred and seventy-eight World Heritage Sites have been inscribed to date, of which 704 qualify as cultural heritage and 174 as natural heritage. In the cultural category belong the Pyramids of Giza, the Statue of Liberty, the Great Wall of China, and the centre of St Petersburg. Natural features recognized as World Heritage Sites include East Africa’s Serengeti, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Mount Kenya and, closer to home, Nahanni Park, Dinosaur Park, Waterton Lakes Park, and the Rocky Mountain Parks.
Becoming a World Heritage Site or Global Geopark brings an increase in public awareness and at the same time increases tourist activities. When enhanced visitation is well planned for following the principles of sustainable tourism, it can inject considerable income into the local economy without degrading the site.
The best available information suggests a net increase in visitation of about 5%. This may not sound like much, but consider the following. First, most areas inscribed as World Heritage Sites are well known ahead of time. This is hardly the case with Wells Gray Park, whose globally significant features are still little known, and in some cases inaccessible. Clearly there is considerable potential here for significant increase in visitation. Second, even a 5% increase in annual visitors would be significant to the local economy if visitors also tend to stay longer. The establishment in Wells Gray of trails and interpretive signage around a “volcanic grand slam” theme will certainly have this effect.
Other documented benefits include:
Stronger partnerships between stakeholders working toward a common goal
Enhanced opportunities for funding, and greater private investment
Opportunities for learning and research
Increased pride in the local area
Increased community cohesion, e.g., through development of community organizations
Greater attention to conserving the values represented by the site.
Nuts and Bolts
The Wells Gray World Heritage initiative (WGWH) is a ten-year project begun in 2012 and spearheaded by the Wells Gray World Heritage Committee. WGWH is dedicated to achieving UNESCO World Heritage Site status for Canada’s most biodiverse wilderness park by 2022.
Acquiring World Heritage Site status for Wells Gray is necessarily a long, arduous and labour-intensive process. This immediately becomes clear when you have a look at Stu Crawford’s excellent summary report, Two UNESCO designations for Wells Gray Park and Area: World Heritage Site and Global Geopark, funded in 2011 by the Tourism Wells Gray Association.
Given the long gestation expected for this project, the Wells Gray World Heritage Committee has opted to keep itself on track by setting a number of milestones along the way.
The first milestone has already come and gone and took the form of Wells Gray World Heritage Year: a year-long celebration of learning and research which ran from September 2012 through October 2013, and offered 27 public events attended by more than 1000 individuals.
The second milestone is a series of four guide books designed to deepen appreciation of southern Wells Gray. One of these books – Treasure Wells Gray, by Trevor Goward with Jason Hollinger – came out in 2013 and was enlarged to a second edition in 2014. Also in 2014, Cathie Hickson and Jason produced a second book (Wells Gray Rocks) on roadside geology in the Clearwater Valley. All profits from these and other books will go toward securing World Heritage and Geopark Status for Wells Gray. One of the potential recipients is the Wells Gray Wildlife Corridor Project.
As our third milestone, we will attempt to secure designation of Wells Gray as a UNESCO Global Geopark by 2017. Different from World Heritage Sites, which are intended to recognize and protect sites of ‘outstanding universal value’, Global Geoparks are set aside to promote sustainable tourism, economic development, and education and research. The criteria for Global Geopark designation are less rigorous than those required for designation as a World Heritage Site, and seem particularly well suited to Wells Gray and the Clearwater Valley in general, which encompass some of the world’s most accessible ice-contact volcanics.
Additional milestones are now being discussed by members of WGWH and will be announced in due course.