The Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation (TRMF)?s ?Meet the Museum Day? attracted 610 visitors. The events culminated in the long-anticipated presentation by Rich McCrea on the Kakwa Dinosaur Track-site, in Kakwa Provincial Park south of Tumbler Ridge. At the request of BC Parks the TRMF palaeontologists had done the first formal research on this site, which was only discovered a few years ago.
The site is in extreme terrain, an exposed bedding plane of over a thousand square meters at a steep angle. It is in the high alpine below a summit ridge, and the short snow-free season and harsh climate all combine to make the work challenging. McCrea is Canada?s dinosaur footprint expert, and despite growing up in flat Saskatchewan, he has extensive experience with such footprint surfaces on near vertical walls.
The reconnaissance visit in 2005 led to a three week expedition in the summer of 2006 by McCrea, fellow TRMF palaeontologist Lisa Buckley, and technical assistant Tammy Pigeon. The hot, fine weather of 2006 made for a very fortunate trip, as often these peaks are socked in or subjected to rain and snow squalls for weeks on end, even in mid-summer.
Many footprints were found in the talus at the base of the rock wall, but most of the work had to be done on rope on the steeply inclined bedrock surface, once the ropes had been anchored from above, and the surrounding slopes had laboriously been cleared of loose debris. Even a small falling rock could damage a climber / palaeontologist on the ropes hundreds of feet below.
The team would ascend and descend a few thousand feet each day, and would sometimes have to haul hundred pound latex peels up the ropes. Such peels make exact replicas of the trackways without damaging them.
The site is so isolated that few will ever be able to visit it. But thanks to this project, the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre in Tumbler Ridge will be the repository and the home of the associated research, and finally for exhibiting the results. First the displays will be in the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, which is due to open in the spring of 2007, and later in the Peace Region Museum of Natural History once it is built near Tumbler Ridge.
The Kakwa site has probably over a thousand footprints, complete with numerous long trackways, including those of large ankylosaurs, theropods and ornithopods (complete with tail drag lines) down to tinier dinosaurs and even a minute arthropod trackway. The majority of the tracks are deeply embedded in the rock surface, and mostly well preserved.
McCrea explained that this site fills an important niche in the vertebrate track record of western Canada. His research into this topic is ongoing. Only one other site from this age of rock has been described (also in the Kakwa area) and it slid into the Narraway River and shattered before it could be properly studied. The Kakwa site is in rocks that are significantly older than those nearer Tumbler Ridge, and many of the dinosaurs that inhabited the area then were much larger.
The site has also yielded other palaeontological findings of interest, such as different clam and plant species. As a result the 2007 expedition to the site will in all likelihood consist of a multidisciplinary, international team, including experts from various western Canadian and U.S.A. research institutions and the Geological Survey of Canada.
The audience was entranced not just by the tangible excitement of the science, but by the magnificent Rockies scenery, with great mountain ranges forming the backdrop for pictures of palaeontologists on ropes, with remarkable dinosaur footprints in the foreground.
McCrea repeatedly acknowledged the enormous amount of helicopter support that was provided by Veritas DGC, without which the expedition could not have succeeded.