During the summer of 2006 a team of professional palaeontologists from the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation?s Peace Region Palaeontological Research Centre (PRPRC) conducted research for just under a month on the unique dinosaur tracksite in Kakwa Provincial Park. PRPRC palaeontologists were requested by BC Parks and its palaeontology advisory council to visit the track locality in the previous summer of 2005 in order to give Parks an accurate scientific assessment of these recently discovered fossil resources. The results of the 2005 trip were presented to BC Parks and its advisory council in the winter of 2005. The consensus was that the site be properly researched and documented before the inexorable forces of erosion inevitably destroy the site and all that can be learned from it.
In early August 2006, PRPRC palaeontologists received a research permit from BC Parks and a team of three was dispatched to the study area in Kakwa Provincial Park. The substantial helicopter support for the expedition was generously provided by Veritas DGC who were conducting seismic surveys in the Tumbler Ridge area at the time. Veritas flew equipment and personnel in and out of the study area over the duration of the expedition, along with the final trip out which required the use of three helicopters.
The main tracksite is located in the high alpine on a steeply sloping surface over 200 feet in height. The track surface holds hundreds of footprints and scores of lengthy trackways of an impressive diversity of dinosaurs from the Early Cretaceous. The tracksite is part of the Gorman Creek Formation and is one the oldest records of dinosaurs in western Canada. The near vertical wall on which the dinosaur tracks occur is several thousands of square metres in area. It will likely take a few years of research before the scientific documentation is complete.
Given the altitude and orientation of the tracksurface (north-facing), it is only snow-free for a few weeks out of the year. The steeply sloped tracksurface requires the use of ropes and harness to safely access the site, and then there is the ever-present threat of falling rocks. The research team had to hike 1200 vertical feet up to the anchors each day with full packs, conduct physically demanding work on the tracksite while hanging from ropes, and then hike back down at the end of the day.
Unusually for the Peace Region, the weather cooperated and an impressive amount of photographs, measurements, and specimens were collected.
portion of the tracksite area was moulded with the use of museum-grade latex which covered over six square meters and weighed fifty kilograms. A cast will be made of this mould, which will be an exact replica of that portion of the original track surface which contains dozens of tracks and several trackways of numerous types of dinosaurs, including very large ankylosaurs, small quadrupedal ornithopods (plant-eating dinosaurs) and a variety of theropods (meat-eating dinosaurs), with footprints ranging in size from just over 10cm to 55cm in length.
The tracks from Kakwa Provincial Park have already been found to differ in composition from other known track faunas of western Canada. The Kakwa site appears to be an important window into the transition between older and younger track faunas from other formations in the region. The Kakwa tracksite is not the first major tracksite known from the Gorman Creek Formation. An earlier discovery by D.F. Stott, a well-known geologist, was made along the steep banks of the Narraway River near the Alberta-B.C. border in the late 1970s. This site was unable to be fully documented before a slope failure sent the majority of the vertical track-surface into the river.
Due to the remoteness of the site and the inherent dangers associated with vertical slopes and alpine conditions, the Kakwa site is unlikely ever to become a tourist destination. However, the soon-to-be-opened Dinosaur Discovery Gallery in Tumbler Ridge will have trackway replicas and original specimens from the Kakwa site as part of the interpretive displays. More extensive and detailed exhibit material from Kakwa and other significant palaeontology sites of the Peace Region will be featured in the planned world class museum in Tumbler Ridge, which will combine an active dinosaur research and collections program for B.C., and an ambitious public interpretive component which is the ultimate goal of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation (TRMF).
Further research by TRMF and the PRPRC palaeontologists and colleagues from other research institutions on the Kakwa tracksites is being planned for 2007 and beyond and will focus on using state-of-the-art photogrammetry technology to document the entire tracksite. Future research on the Kakwa site will be characterized by a multidisciplinary research approach that will also investigate the fossil plants and invertebrates found in association with the tracksites.
The PRPRC palaeontologists will be giving the first public scientific presentation on the Kakwa site in the Tumbler Ridge Public Library in January.