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Midland Bay Landing awards UNESCO Global GeoParks project to Toronto firm

A Brand[Trade] spokesperson said the $50,000 project to complete a feasibility study for how Midland and area can prepare itself for a UNESCO Global GeoPark designation will take up to six months to complete
Bill Kernohan, director and chair of Midland Bay Landing Development Corporation, pitched the UNESCO Global Geopark designation to council at the annual general meeting. Mehreen Shahid/MidlandToday file photo.

Midland Bay Landing Development Corporation (MBLDC) has embarked on its journey to secure a UNESCO designation for Midland and area.

The next step came at its recent meeting during which the MBLDC board awarded the project to a Toronto-based company, Brand[Trade] Incorporated.

In a recent conversation with MidlandToday, Cameron Brohman, company co-founder talked about the role his firm would play. 

Brand[Trade], he said, is primarily conducting a feasibility study, using the UNESCO 101 question self-evaluation framework in seven categories. Some of the questions are around partnerships with local businesses, educational activities connected with the geological heritage, and conservation maps and inventories.

"At the end of five months, we will produce a feasibility study with recommendations and costs," said Brohman. "Then the town will know how close they are to being a GeoPark and what it will take to upgrade things to that status."

Making the necessary upgrades will be the next step, he said. 

"Then they can apply for a UNESCO designation," Brohman said, noting, "This whole process will take more than a couple years for sure, but it starts now."

For this, he said, his company will be talking to local stakeholders and hopefully involving the general public in the conversation, too.

When talking about the advantages of such a designation, Brohman said, it would open up the area to global geo-tourism, connecting with an existing UNESCO asset.

"The 30,000 Islands are already a UNESCO biosphere global program," he said. "Midland is a gateway to the islands, now it would become a gateway to the UNESCO biosphere. We would be integrating with an existing UNESCO program. And we would be taking advantage of joining a network of global programs. It gives business and development and tourism opportunities when you connect with other members."

Not only would it open up the area to tourism, Brohman said, but it would also attract high-quality developers.

"It's evidentiary that this contributes to attracting more enlightened and high-value investors and developers," he said.

Similarly, Brohman said, local stakeholders, such as those in the environmental category, will also see growth and benefits.

"One of the assets is the Wye Marsh and the public education trips taken through there," he said. "It's quite priceless in the overall scheme of things. Making it a GeoPark adds another layer of education. That's growth and additional funding and new stakeholders."

Where UNESCO is not a bank itself, Brohman said, the designation connects organizations with private-sector sources of funding.

"It brings validity and prestige and real asset value," he said. "And that counts when you're talking to people about funding."

When asked about the disadvantages of the move, Brohman said, he couldn't think of any.

"I can't see any downsides and nobody has suggested any," he said. "The only reaction that can be noticed that UNESCO has been equated with the United Nations. But UNESCO is not about politics."

Bill Kernohan, chair of the MBLDC board, said the corporation is excited about this big picture opportunity for the whole area.

"I've always been saying that the whole area hasn't developed a coordinated story of why this is the place to be," he said. "This is the catalyst for all of that to happen. It provides a unified framework for everybody to work within. We have the physical and geographic assets to all of this and that's what it's all about. We're already the gateway to another UNESCO biosphere, which is the 30,000 islands.

"The benefit is that you join the UNESCO network and instead of just marketing ourselves to the county and province," added Kernohan, "we have an international audience that would be interested in this. Tourism is very different now. People are looking for experiences and we have a wonderful opportunity."