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Andrew Alden

What's a Geopark?

By November 2, 2009

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I've cared about geoparks for several years, so I made sure to attend a session on geoparks at the 2009 Geological Society of America meeting, on 19 October. The most important news to me was that the National Park Service is collaborating with the GSA on a formal proposal for establishing geoparks in the United States. [Update: GSA issued a draft statement on geoheritage in early 2011]

But what is a geopark? It's an entity listed by UNESCO that encompasses a noteworthy geological feature along with the peoples and cultures centered on it. Have a look at the 35 geoparks of Europe. For example, the Reserve Géologique de Haute-Provence calls itself Europe's largest open-air geological museum. The townspeople bake ammonite-shaped pastries and organize tourism and festivals around their fossil heritage.

A brand-new podcast has just gone up from the UK's National Environment Research Council, "Protecting Geological Heritage," that will give you a lively introduction to geoparks from the country that more than any other pioneered the concept.

America's closest thing to a geopark is the recently named Ice Age Floods National Geological Trail, which will be a loose network of roadside exhibits, interpretive centers and cultural activities organized in the enormous region marked by the Missoula Floods in the late Pleistocene, stretching from Montana to the Pacific. But there are lots of other good candidates—all we need is a program.


November 3, 2009 at 12:34 pm
(1) David Phillips says:

I believe the Falls of Ohio is geo-park and is listed on the international registry. There is a candidate near Erie, PA, and several more being considered. This has been a topic on the Paleo List,
twice. I can provide more info if needed.

November 3, 2009 at 5:03 pm
(2) Geology Guide says:

Dave, please do provide some more information. I suspect you many be thinking of “paleoparks,” which I didn’t get into in this post. That’s yet another model of geological preserve administered by the International Paleontological Association. Lots more about them here.

November 4, 2009 at 11:56 am
(3) David Phillips says:

I was mistaken, they are PaleoParks

November 5, 2009 at 12:08 pm
(4) J. David Rogers says:

This sort of proposal is LONG overdue in the USA. back in 1974 when I was an intern ranger with the National Park Service at Bryce Canyon, there was almost nil attention paid to the geology there, or at any of the other Utah national parks (with exception of Wayne Hamilton’s excellent work at Zion Park, in the 1970s).

This is probably because the NPS is staffed almost entirely by people with life sciences backgrounds. They have usually taken only one or maybe two courses in geology.

I’ve been studying megalandslides in the Grand Canyon almost continuously since 1978; yet during the past 31 years I can’t recall a single geologist being on the staff at Grand Canyon, the grandest of all geology-themed national parks! They’ve employed a few seasonal people in the river unit, passing out rafting permits at Lee’s Ferry, but those positions don’t involve interpretation to the visiting public (one of them did write a superb guidebook for river trips).

This is pretty amazing oversight when you consider the fact that ALL of these are really GEOLOGY-ORIENTED national parks. Go to an evening campfire, and you’re more likely to hear a lecture on evolution of the Kaibab squirrel or the endangered humpbacked chub than anything really interesting or compelling about the park’s geology.

November 5, 2009 at 1:08 pm
(5) Geology Guide says:

That’s all true, David. On the other hand, my parents just finished an Elderhostel trip to the Utah parks where a geologist spoke at nearly every stop.

It’s easier to teach a geologist to lecture on endangered species than it is to teach a biologist geology.

November 5, 2009 at 3:15 pm
(6) Geology Guide says:

I should also point out that the GSA Foundation and other contributors place dozens of geologists on public lands each year in the GeoCorps program.

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