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BEHIND THE SCENES: Upcoming Trails Summit big step for aspiring Niagara Geopark

Niagara-On-The-Lake Local reporter Mike Balsom takes us behind the scenes

Preparations are underway for the aspiring Niagara Geopark, as it gears up for an assessment by UNESCO in just over a year. The Niagara Geopark Trails Summit, scheduled for June 2 at Niagara College, aims to bring together key stakeholders responsible for the region's publicly-accessible trails and routes. By collaborating with organizations like the Bruce Trail, Wine Route, Greenbelt, and Greater Niagara Circle Route, the geopark aims to create a cohesive network of trails that cater to various interests and experiences.

The summit will feature expert panels discussing topics such as Indigenous heritage trails, restoration and conservation, technology and resources, sustainable economic benefits, and healthy living and visiting. The goal is to categorize the trails based on different experiences, whether it's birdwatching, fishing, or exploring Indigenous history. The geopark also plans to foster partnerships with local businesses and organizations to offer visitors a seamless experience that combines trail exploration with nearby attractions such as wineries, restaurants, and accommodations.

The Niagara Geopark initiative has gained support from various entities, including the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Bruce Trail Conservancy, and Greenbelt Ontario. The geopark website showcases sustainable businesses committed to the cause and provides downloadable content to help users plan their itineraries, find points of interest, and access themed trails. The ultimate objective is to secure UNESCO designation, with the final application set to be submitted in the fall. In the meantime, the geopark is already acting as a geopark by enhancing its online presence, organizing the Trails Summit, and preparing for potential inspectors' visits in the next year.

Video Summary:

The team behind the Niagara Geopark is diligently preparing for the arrival of UNESCO assessors in just over a year. The Trails Summit, a key event in this process, aims to bring together stakeholders responsible for Niagara's trails and routes. The goal is to create a cohesive network of trails that cater to different interests and experiences, while also incorporating lesser-known Indigenous heritage trails. By fostering collaboration among organizations such as the Bruce Trail Conservancy and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, the geopark hopes to enhance the region's tourism and economic development prospects.

Cooperation among the numerous stakeholders involved in the trails system presents a challenge. The Trails Summit seeks to address this issue by facilitating communication and collaboration among different organizations. Currently, there is a lack of comprehensive knowledge about the exact number of trails in Niagara, including both modern and Indigenous routes. The geopark initiative aims to integrate Indigenous heritage trails into the network and raise awareness about their historical significance. Indigenous representatives play a crucial role in this process, ensuring that these lesser-known trails receive recognition and appreciation.

The inclusion of Indigenous heritage trails is a significant aspect of the geopark initiative. Indigenous representatives actively participate in the geopark committee, contributing their valuable knowledge and expertise. This involvement ensures that the Indigenous trails are woven into the overall network and that their historical and cultural significance is appropriately highlighted. Efforts are being made to raise awareness and understanding of these trails among the wider community. By recognizing and promoting the Indigenous heritage trails, the geopark aims to foster a deeper appreciation for the region's rich history and diverse cultural heritage.