A type of dinosaur autobahn, with a riot of ancient footprints that are likely more than 100 million years old, has been discovered in northeastern British Columbia.
Hundreds of prints from extinct carnivores and herbivores are pressed into the flat, rocky surface spanning an area the size of three Canadian football fields, indicating the site was a major dinosaur thoroughfare.
Many of the three-toed prints at the site — located near Williston Lake about 1,500 kilometres northeast of Vancouver — closely resemble the Toronto Raptors logo.
"From what I saw there is at least a score or more of trackways, so 20-plus trackways of different animals," said paleontologist Rich McCrea.
"We're looking at a few hundred foot prints that were exposed when I visited the site. If it keeps up that density and we are able to peel back a bit of the surface and expand it by another 1,000 square metres we're likely to find there are thousands of foot prints."
Potential world-class tourism site
McCrea is the curator of the Peace Region Paleontology Research Centre in Tumbler Ridge, B.C. He believes the dinosaur path has major potential as a world-class scientific and tourism site, but said he's concerned the B.C. government's approach to protecting and promoting dinosaur zones is somewhat prehistoric.
"It would be one of the top sites, unquestionably," said McCrea, who's part of a local crowdfunding campaign to raise $190,000 to research and promote the dinosaur track site. "It already looks like it's going to be one of the biggest sites in Canada. That also means one of the biggest sites in the world."
He said his visits to the secret site indicate the area was a major travel zone for the allosaurus, a Jurassic Park look-alike, 8.5-metre-long, two-legged predator with a huge head and rows of teeth.
McCrea said the area is also ripe with tracks made by the ankylosaurus, a four-legged, nine-metre-long herbivore, that weighed almost 6,000 kilograms and was known for its distinctive armour-plated head and long, club-like tail.
He estimated those tracks are between 115 million and 117 million years old.
"This was still in the dinosaurs' heyday," said McCrea. "It's kind of like the middle age of dinosaurs."
Calls for government to protect area
He said he wants the area protected by the B.C. government, and he's part of a pitch to create a Peace Country dinosaur tourist zone that rivals Alberta's Royal Tyrrell Museum at Drumheller. McCrea envisions dinosaur tours to Tumbler Ridge, Williston Lake and the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in nearby Wembley, Alta.
Last fall, Tumbler Ridge was designated as a UNESCO global geopark that recognizes geological heritage. The community converted a school into a dinosaur museum and repository for the dinosaurs fossils discovered in the area.
McCrea said he wants to see a tourist building overlooking the dinosaur trackway area at Williston Lake. A similar concept at China's Zigong Dinosaur Museum attracts seven million people a year, he said.
Tumbler Ridge Liberal MLA Mike Bernier said he's been trying to convince cabinet ministers that the area is an important asset and needs heritage and fossil protection policies.
"People go crazy when they see dinosaur bones and fossils. There's something about it: the old Jurassic Park movie coming to life in your riding," he said.
Bernier said he's reviewing heritage protection laws from across North America and plans to submit a proposal to government this year.
B.C. Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson, whose ministry covers fossil protection, said he's seen the Tumbler Ridge dinosaur site and has met with Bernier on strengthening the province's fossil management.
Five years ago the government protected the world-renowned McAbee fossil beds near Cache Creek in B.C.'s Interior from professional fossil hunters and others who were mining the area for cat litter.
"We are looking at what legislative adjustments might be needed to be put in place," said Thomson.
McCrea said Alberta and others have protected and profit from their fossil heritage, while B.C. remains behind the times.
"We're missing out on all the opportunities, not just tourism and education, but also, how about just pride that the province itself is the custodian of all its natural resources," he said.