Virtual reality brings tourists to Grande Cache dinosaur tracks

Outreach Educator: Gavin Bradley at Rosso Pizzeria in Edmonton on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022. Bradley is the science Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) coordinator for the University of Alberta Faculty of Science; he frequents the pizzeria to get out of his home office. (Photo by Erin St Jean/The Press)

A virtual reality tour of the Grande Cache dinosaur track site is slated to open in summer of 2022.

The project is a collaboration between the Municipal District of Greenview (where the track site is located), the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and Lethbridge College’s Spatial Technologies Applied Research & Training (START) Centre.

“We had the problem of, how do we get people to experience the site for educational purposes?” said Jenny Daubert, tourism supervisor at the Grande Cache Tourism Centre.

“People are aware that the dinosaur tracks are out there, so how do we how do we fill that niche until we’re able to get people there safely, if that’s ever going to be a possibility?”

The Grande Cache dinosaur track site is comprised of 13 different sites, with the main site consisting of over 10,000 footprints on a cliff that sits at a 60-degree angle.

Combining this with the fact that the site is on private property, it can be dangerous to take people out to see the footprints.

Using a Community and Regional Economic Support (CARES) grant, the START Centre was able to create a virtual reality tour of the site.

“One of our faculty went up to the site, and using photos was able to recreate a 3D model of the cliff side,” said Mike McCready, the research program chair of the START Centre.

“[The user goes] through the process of being a paleontologist: they pack their tools into their bag, and then they get to the cliff side, they’re going through the process of identifying the track and preparing the track site, pouring the plaster and then choosing what kind of dinosaur made that track.”

VR Guru: Mike McCready, research program chair of Lethbridge College’s START Centre. (Screenshot by Erin St Jean/The Press)

The virtual reality tour is just one part of the project – the START Centre is wrapping up the augmented reality portion by spring of 2022.

“The augmented reality experience we actually built using Snapchat,” McCready said.

“With that one, the participants will be able to download the lens onto their Snapchat on their phone inside the visitor centre, and then there will be a marker on the table that [when scanned] will basically create a prehistoric representation of the environment.”

As the START Centre’s first project, McCready says that there is a lot of potential for technology like this to be used at other heritage sites as it would allow people to see the sites without causing damage to them.

Another benefit of virtual reality tours is increased accessibility.

“Paleontology is a very physically challenging science, and even if a site is accessible, not everybody finds it accessible,” said Gavin Bradley, a paleontology lecturer and Massive Open Online Course coordinator at the University of Alberta.

“The accessibility factor is what excites me about these different technologies in outreach.”

For the people of the Municipal District of Greenview, having the virtual reality tour completed is a welcome boost to the community.

“From my standpoint, it’s just been nice to see this project come finally to fruition,” said Tyler Olsen, reeve of the Municipal District of Greenview.

“It’s something that’s been nice to have for the community, another draw to the area and just to help push tourism ahead a little bit and get the dinosaur tracks finally out into public is nice.”

VR Supporter: Gavin Bradley watches a video about the Grande Cache virtual reality tour at Rosso Pizzeria in Edmonton on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022. Bradley is excited about the accessibility that these technologies can bring. (Photo by Erin St Jean/The Press)
About Erin St Jean 2 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Erin St Jean is working as a writer for The Press during the 2021-22 academic year.