By Greg Mason
The Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve has just named its 20th Amazing Place: Beautiful Georgian Bay itself.
In 2014 the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve (GBBR) launched a visitor education program to highlight some of the most amazing — and accessible — places within the UNESCO region. The program operates in four biosphere reserves across Canada.
“People call our office asking where the gates are, or how to buy tickets to the reserve,” said staff Becky Pollock. “Especially Europeans like to visit parks and protected areas and they expect to find a visitor centre here with guided tours.”
The Amazing Places program named the first 10 places with the help of public nominations. Over 176 votes were cast and the committee narrowed down the first 10 based on specific criteria.
“Many of the votes were for favourite spots on Crown Lands,” said Pollock, “but we felt that we should not promote places that could not handle a dramatic increase in visitors.”
The committee used a 100 kilometre radius to name sites from the national park in Honey Harbour to beyond the French River gorge.
Several grants helped the program to grow from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Mountain Equipment Co-Op. Some signage and social media support was provided by Explorers’ Edge. GBBR is producing a new brochure and promotional video this spring and has over 30 tourism partners that support the project.
“It’s an international brand that says a lot about the Parry Sound area,” said Glen Barnden, regional economic development officer. “As one of only 18 world biosphere reserves in Canada, there’s something really special about the 30,000 Islands and it tells visitors we’re proud of this place, we’re taking care of it, and we are learning important lessons about sustainable human and nature co-existence.”
To boost economic development, businesses are encouraged to promote themselves as part of a biosphere reserve, do customer service training and use GBBR branding.
From 2016 to 2018 the next ten places were added to complete the bucket list. Now the collection includes places to hike, bike and paddle with year-round and multi-use trails. The focus is on promoting spring, fall and winter experiences.
“We have six parks, two Indigenous partners at Dokis First Nation and the Wikwemikong’s Grondine Park, as well as iconic places on the Bay like “Hole in the Wall” and the French River delta,” Pollock added. “Because conservation education is at the heart of the program, we included the Parry Sound Community Apiary at Canadore College which offers tours of pollinator gardens and honey tastings.”
The final and rather fitting final addition to the group is Georgian Bay itself. The glacier-sculpted rugged shoreline, sand beaches, and clear blue water are what attract visitors near and far to marvel at this “Sixth Great Lake.” The website visitamazingplaces.ca describes each place, lists activities and directions, and profiles species at risk.
Tourism intern at GBBR, Emara Streich, is excited to showcase the area: “This is a paradise for hikers, paddlers, cyclists, and outdoor enthusiasts, and if we can guide them to those places and teach them what makes the area special and how to protect it, then we’re doing our job.”
The GBBR is offering guided Biosphere Walks on the Waterfront, Rose Point and Georgian Nordic trails that are amazing places. They plan to partner with a custom private, guided tour company that caters to European visitors this summer.