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Years later, Peace Region man's dino discovery could become a museum Tumbler Ridge researchers to reveal extensive dinosaur track way site to the public July 8

July 10 , 2016

by Mike Carter

In the fall of 2005 Barry Mierau and T.J. Nelson were accessing a cut block in the Carbon Lake area near the Williston Reservoir, when something caught their eye. Slightly off the beaten path, they noticed moss growing on an exposed rock slab in the distinct three-pronged shape of a dinosaur footprint. "We jumped off and wandered over. Sure enough, there were tracks all over the place," Mierau told the Dawson Creek Mirror. "It was pretty obvious what it was." Mierau knew he had a big secret on his hands, but he just didn't know how big it really was.

It was four years until Mierau returned to the site and realized its significance. As it turns out, the site is one of the only trackways of its kind in the world. On July 8, the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre (PRPRC) will reveal the 6,000 square-metre trackway to the public for the first time, along with plans to conserve it with a climate-controlled museum to be built right over top of the bedrock slab. "I wasn't really aware of the guys in Tumbler Ridge until a few years after I discovered the spot," Mierau said. It was after a trip to the Tumbler Ridge Dinosaur Discovery Gallery with his daughter that he realized the spot he found might have greater some importance. On a tour, they were shown one of the largest trackways known to researchers at the time. "(The guide) was describing these tracks as really good quality foot prints," Mierau said. "One trackway we visited had five or six tracks in a row and she said that was one of the largest ones. I thought, 'I know there must have been at least a couple hundred at the site I found.'" He spoke with the tour guide after the hike and she put him in touch with the son of Dr. Charles Helm, a volunteer at the dinosaur museum, who was working in the Tumbler Ridge Museum. Helm, who is a medical doctor, promptly cleared his schedule for the day arranged for Mierau to take him to the site. "I wasn't even sure if I could find the place again," Mierau said. "I hand't been there for four years. There was a bit of a tense moment when I was driving out with him trying to remember where it was. I was hoping I didn't make a fool of myself." After being blown away with what they encountered there, Helm handed the discovery off to the PRPRC's Dr. Rich McCrea. McCrea noted that the track site is part of the Gething Formation. He determined it to be from the Aptian or early Cretaceous age, which puts it in the range of between 100 to 145 million years old. One of the reasons researchers are so excited about the spot is because it is the first major track site uncovered in the area since the Peace Canyon Dam flooded a similarly aged track way. In an illustration of the give-and-take relationship between industrial development and the preservation of historically significant sites, research on Williston Reservoir trackway has so far mostly been funded by industry and private donations. This despite the loss of significant palaeontological resources by the construction of the dam, which was completed in 1980. Mierau was thrilled when he heard about the plan to build a museum right overtop of the site. "I just thought that'd be phenomenal to do something (like that)," he said. "The location is nice (for that.)" He says he and Helm counted "something like 400 footprints that were exposed…and the slab keeps going. Once you start cleaning and excavating, it could be a huge site. Who knows how much ground that could cover." Researchers note that tracks can be found over the entire area, but most are covered with growth and sediment that has settled over millions of years.

In an effort to make the site part of a tourism strategy for the region, the PRPRC involved economic development commissions in the North and South Peace, as well as the Treaty 8 Tribal Association and the District of Hudson's Hope who have become collectively known as the "hosting partners" of the trackway. The facility will be a major party of the proposed "Northern Dinosaur Trail" which would include sites in northwestern Alberta and the Yukon Territory, as well as the known dinosaur trackways in the Peace. For Mierau, having his discovery shed some light on prehistoric life in the region is all still a bit surreal. "When you're working in the bush you are always coming across things and finding fossils, trackways, you name it," he said. "I always knew that site was pretty special and pretty rare. I just didn't know how rare and how special it was, I guess."



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