Ever wonder what a hike’s terrain is like before heading out to hit the trail? Well wonder no more on certain trails. A partnership between Google and the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is working towards connecting people to nature through virtual tours. Using Google’s technology they have worked to create an off-road version of Google Street View to share hikes virtually.
The partnership has been active for three years, documenting 18 NCC hikes across Canada. On August 16th Luc Thomas and Rick Klafki set out to gather images from the Dutch Creek Hoodoos Conservation Area in Fairmont Hot Springs, which will be the only British Columbian hike documented this year.
“It was regional staff, [they] thought about areas that would be logical for people, that have good accessibility combined with nice natural values that we thought people would really enjoy and feature the importance of the local conservation in the area,” said Richard Klafki, stewardship coordinator for the Canadian Rocky Mountain Region in British Columbia for NCC.
Due to the Hoodoos popularity and great views that showcase other NCC properties including Lot 48, Columbia Lake Wildlife Management Area, Thunderhill Ranch, and Marion Creek Benchlands, the local trail was selected to be documented.
“The Hoodoos themselves are a really unique feature there, like several hundred feet high, glacial till left over formation from old glacial lakes and they house nesting swallows and white-throated swift (birds) which is sort of unique to the area. There’s also a lot of plants that grow along the edge and the dry area. While they’re not rare in British Columbia, they’re rare and unique to be this far north in the Rocky Mountain Trench,” said Mr. Klafki.
While Mr. Klafki was unsure if the Google Trekker tour of the Dutch Creek Hoodoos will increase traffic, he did state the trail already has 100 users on weekends.
“It is to promote getting people out in nature so envision that eventually, it may have a slight increase. Especially when they don’t just hear how nice it is up here maybe they get to see how nice it is and they’re like gotta go check it out for themselves,” said Mr. Klafki.
How the Google Trekker works is by a single operator carrying the 50-pound backpack with a camera attached walking along the NCC trail capturing images from every angle.
“It’s a globe that’s mounted on a backpack using a metal frame and there are 15 cameras inside the globe that take panoramic images. That actually takes images every 2.5 seconds that’s how you get the street view panoramic feel when you go online,” said Luc Thomas manager Digital Services for National Office.
NCC staff were trained by Google to operate the equipment and will send the images captured back to Google to be compiled into a ‘streetview’ of each trail. Compilation of the images takes roughly six to 12 months to complete.
“We wanted to collect our properties, we wanted to give it a chance for people to see the work we do. This gives them the opportunity to see online what they would expect if they were to come and visit. But it also provides the ability for people that will not make it and are supporting our mission. They’ll see the work that we do, they can see it first hand online. It’s definitely not the same as being here but it gives them that opportunity,” said Mr. Thomas.
While the Hoodoos won’t be featured on the NCC Google Trekker site until next summer, anyone interested in seeing the existing 18 trails featured can visit http://www.natureconservancy.ca/trekker. Until the virtual hike is online the NCC recommends hikers take in the trail first-hand but are reminding people to wait until the recreational access ban is lifted.