In August, Natalie Hassett, NCC’s natural areas manager for southwestern Saskatchewan, hoisted a 20-kilogram Google Trekker onto her back and hiked the grasslands of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC) Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area (OMB).

Through a collaboration with Google, six natural areas protected by NCC, including OMB, have now been captured in panoramic images that will be accessible on Google Street View by year-end. But unlike most images on Street View that are taken with a camera mounted on a car, these images have been captured on foot using the Trekker, a camera-equipped backpack.

“The broad mandate of Google Maps is to create the world’s most accurate, comprehensive and usable maps,” says Aaron Brindle, communications and public affairs manager at Google. “The Trekker is an amazingly versatile tool, the workhorse of our off-road Street View projects. We rely on partners like NCC to assist in the imagery collection at these spectacular places.”

During the OMB trek, Ms. Hassett says that she “chose to photograph locations with the most ecological, historical and cultural significance,” carrying the Trekker through an area with historic farm buildings and then farther afield “through native grassland to the property’s dedication stone (to the late Peter Butala, the former owner of the property) and bison rubbing rocks.” 

Ms. Hassett and the Trekker also travelled by quad, when Luc Thomas, manager of digital services at NCC, drove out with her to take images of the herd of plains bison that make their home on the property.

Ms. Hassett says that it can be difficult to visit the NCC property given its location in rural Saskatchewan. When the images become available on Google Street View, she says it will be “much easier for people to get a sense of this incredible landscape and see the work NCC is doing to protect it.” 

The 15 cameras mounted on top of the Trekker collect high-definition photographs every 2.5 seconds, each with its own GPS marker. These photos are then sent to Google headquarters where they are digitally stitched together to create a 360-degree panoramic image that can be accessed through Google Street View, enabling users to hike the property virtually.

Mr. Thomas transported the Google Trekker to six NCC natural areas across the country over the past few months, capturing imagery of the coastal forest in Chase Woods, B.C.; the badlands of Horseshoe Canyon in Alberta; native grasslands at OMB in Saskatchewan; one of the last remaining intact upland deciduous forests of Ontario’s Oak Ridges Moraine, the Happy Valley Forest; the mixed Appalachian forest in Quebec’s Green Mountains; and the Johnson’s Mills Shorebird Reserve and Interpretive Centre in New Brunswick.

“The only costs to NCC are our resources and our staff time to come onsite and plan the journey,” says Mr. Thomas. “We have some beautiful properties and natural areas that we want to capture, to show the world that this is why we’re doing what we do."

With the Google Trekker on her back, NCC’s Natalie Hassett walks through an NCC conservation area to record panoramic images that will soon be available on Google Street View. CALVIN FEHR

With the Google Trekker on her back, NCC’s Natalie Hassett walks through an NCC conservation area to record panoramic images that will soon be available on Google Street View. CALVIN FEHR

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