A Geopark can be defined as 'an area that exhibits a particular geological heritage and which has a related sustainable development strategy such as the promotion and development of geotourism.' More simply put, a Geopark is an effective tool for allowing communities to take greater control over their tourism product by adopting a grass roots approach to the promotion of the region.
The South Kerry region has been identified as one of the most significant geological regions in Europe. It represents the westernmost extension of the Amorican or Hercynian mountain building epoch where over 5 km thickness of sandstone were folded and contorted into a range of high mountains. These were weathered down over the ensuing hundreds of millions of years but sculpturing by the Pleistocene Ice Age has left us with a pristine glacial landscape. As well as the manifestation of the glacial landscape, all of the human history and the culture we see today are a consequence of this unique landscape which has unique geological features, e.g. the Tetrapod trackway of Valentia. The challenge is how to use such resources to effectively market the area in order to stimulate more sustainable tourism.
The Story So Far:
For a number of years, the communities of South Kerry, together with local development agencies, have been developing the region as Kerry Geopark, it a bid to strategically promote the area's unique geological, archaeological and cultural resources. Significant progress has been made to date:
The development of three dedicated Geotrails- see our Activities section;
The establishment of a Local Activity Group in the majority of participating Geocommunities;
The organisation and launching of Geopark Events / festivals in Valentia (Valentia Island King Scallop Festival), Sneem (Geofest Walking Weekend), Portmagee (Geopark Dive and Jive Weekend) and Ballinskelligs (Arts of the Geopark Weekend).
The purpose of such events is three fold:
Create further awareness about the significance of the South Kerry landscape and the Geopark project;
Increase the footfall of tourists visiting the area; and thereby;
Support local businesses and food producers (for further information, see our events section)
For some time, local communities in South Kerry have been developing Kerry Geopark as a defined territory of c.500 sq.km comprising a number of communities including Tahilla, Sneem, Castlecove, Caherdaniel, Derrynane, Cahirsiveen, Kells, Ballinskelligs, Dromid, Waterville, Portmagee and Valentia Island. At its heart, Kerry Geopark is a community project which seeks to promote community led development. In the spirit of such, the Board is comprised of local representatives from each of the participating communities together with representatives from a number of community and educational organisations including South Kerry Development Partnership Ltd. and University College Cork. To date, there has been a very enthusiastic response to the Kerry Geopark project in the participating communities. Such enthusiasm and continued participation will ensure the success of the Kerry Geopark project in going forward.
European Geoparks Network:
At present we are an aspirational European Geopark. The map shows the accredited Geoparks currently in the European Network. "A European Geopark is an area of land, which includes a specific geological heritage and a sustainable territorial development strategy supported by a European program to promote development. It must have clearly defined boundaries and sufficient surface area for true territorial economic development. Furthermore, a European Geopark must work within the European Geopark Network to further the network's development and cohesion. It must work with local enterprises to promote and support the creation of new by-products linked with the geological heritage in a complimentary spirit with the other European Geoparks Network members. It must also work within the prescribed framework of guidelines as set by the European Geopark Network." European Geopark Charter (2000)
The Kerry Geopark is actively working towards achieving European Geopark Network status by establishing and promoting all the features defined within its area. In November 2009, Kerry Geopark Ltd, in conjunction with South Kerry Development Partnership Ltd. (SKDP) appointed a full-time Geopark Development Officer whose role is to co-ordinate the efforts of the local communities in preparing the application to attain official European Geopark status. If successful in our application, Kerry Geopark will join an existing Network of 37 EGN endorsed Geoparks throughout Europe, 2 of which are located in Ireland (Marble Arch Geopark, Co. Fermanagh and the Copper Coast Geopark, Co. Waterford).