Google Trekker comes to town

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Last week, the Google Street View Trekker was in town…

But wait.  What is the Google Trekker?

Well, it’s basically street view for trails. The Google Trekker is a backpack, weighing in at about 40 lbs,  with 15 cameras built in. As a person walks along, the device takes panoramic photos every 2.5 seconds.

“The Trekker enables Street View to feature more places around the world – places no car, trike, trolley or snowmobile can access,” says the description on Google’s website. “This wearable backpack is outfitted with a camera system on top, and its portability enables us to gather images while maneuvering through tight, narrow spaces or locations only accessible by foot.”

So far, says Tasha Peterson, Content and Social Media Specialist for Northern BC Tourism, the Trekker has been mapping the Northwestern corner of the province.

Tumbler Ridge is their first stop in Northeast BC, and they’re joined by a crew from Destination BC, the province’s Tourism arm, who are in the area to collect video, photos and interviews as part of an interactive feature they will be rolling out on their website.

So far, the Trekker has been to TR Point, the Cabin Pool trackway, the base of Kinuseo Falls, the Cascades, Monkman Lake and the Alpine Tarns, and Wapiti Lake.

The day I join them (Wednesday, July 27), the plan is to fly up to Holzworth Meadows, Windfall Lake and Albright Ridge. I will be joining the Northern BC Trekker Crew; the Destination BC crew is filming elsewhere today. Peterson is joined by Francesca Donker, Program Assistant at NBC Tourism, and Geopark Manager Sarah Waters, who is acting as guide for this trip.

Rounding out the crew is Pilot Hans Nogel, President and Owner of Ridge Rotors Helicopter Services, who will be getting us from place to place in style.

There are two Google Trekkers in Canada, and both are in BC. In addition to the one in Tumbler Ridge, a second has been hitting the highlights down south, including Garibaldi Park and the Kettle Valley Trail. Over the course of 100 days, Destination BC and Northern BC Tourism are hoping to map more than 1500 km of destinations throughout the province, mapping a collection of must-see destinations across BC.

“It has been incredible,” says Peterson. “We’re getting to see places we wouldn’t necessarily get to see. I mean, who gets to go fly around in a helicopter for a few days and see this?” She gestures at Windfall Lake, which is in its glory: sun shining, alpine flowers blooming.

So far, Peters on has been with the Trekker to Stewart and into the Hazelton and Smithers area. This is the second year that they’ve applied for the Trekker, and this year, they’ve got it for three months. “Within our application, we highlighted a bunch of places we’d like to go if we got it. Places like Stewart and Tumbler Ridge were on our list of places we’d like to go, because the mandate behind Google Trekker is to go places where roads can’t go. They liked the areas we put forward.”

Even so, says Peterson, there are many other destinations that the Trekker could go to. While there’s no plans (that she can talk about, at any rate), she says she’d love to see the Trekker come back into the area.

While the Trekker has been to the Cascades, Babcock Falls, and Quality Falls, it hasn’t been to Bergeron Falls, the highest in the area. For each destination it has made it to in its whirlwind visit to Tumbler Ridge, there are a many more it hasn’t. And that’s just in Tumbler Ridge.

Peterson says Northern BC Tourism has been working with the local partners to determine the best places to go. “We have been working with partners like BC Park and the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark,” she says. “The regional districts and the communities have been very helpful in identifying areas within their communities they feel are the most spectacular, where visitors should go. Everyone has been very helpful that way. We want to work with locals who know the area best.” 2016-07-27 Google Trekker-by-Trent-Ernst-001

While the Trekker is mapping some trails from tip to tail, today, we are flying into the destinations and mapping short sections of the route. “If someone were to start at the bottom of the trail online and go click click click, they might not get to this part because they’d get bored,” she says. “Getting these bits is more important than getting the trailhead. We want to inspire people to come, we don’t want to bore them at the trailhead.”

After Windfall, Nogel flies us up to Albright Ridge. The views from here are spectacular, looking out over Hook Lake and deep into the mountains in Monkman Provincial Park. Donker dons the Trekker, then walks a portion of the ridge. Selfies are shot, panoramic photos are taken, and then the group reluctantly climbs back into the helicopter to fly back to base. It’s been a magical day visiting some of the best alpine areas that Tumbler Ridge has had to offer.

The Google Trekker will be touring around the rest of Northeastern BC until the end of August.