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VR Being Utilised by SC State Parks to Make Summit More Accessible

South Carolina State Parks is offering a new virtual reality (VR) offering to let people explore one of the most difficult Upstate hikes from its visitor centre. It is a one-of-a-kind experience, but more such developments are expected in the future.

Paul McCormark, State Park Service Director, said that the Table Rock Mountain summit hike in South Carolina is one of the most physically demanding ones for people who have health and mobility-related issues. The hike stretches for 3.6 miles and rises 2,000 feet to the top of the mountain. The VR-based virtual mountain experience runs for approximately five minutes, a duration which is quite minimal compared to the usual 4-5 hours round trip McCormack regards hikers take to scale the peak.

The virtual experience has four of the main spots on the hiking trail, which are the Carrick Creek waterfall, a halfway point shelter for hikers, the Governor’s Rock outlook and the panoramic view from the mountain top.  The experience, which opened up on January 1 has already been tried by 40 people, with McCormack describing their reactions as strongly positive. The project, which has been under development for a year, was initiated following a donation made to the Table Rock State Park in memory of Greenville County native Tom Presnell, who was a frequent hiker on the mountain. According to McCormark, Presnell was also a friend of Phil Gaines, a former parks director, and erstwhile State Park Service artist-in-residence.

Automobile manufacturer BMW, which has a sizeable assembly plant in the Upstate, has contributed the remainder of the funding for the project. The State Park Service has collaborated with Beaufort-based marketing company BFG to create the experience for guests. Ryan Clark, a BFG account director, revealed that the film took about 15 hours to complete. A spherical camera set-up with six cameras has been used to film in conjunction. The stitching project has been used to combine the footage and create the finished product.

McCormack remarked that parks utilising 360-degree videos is a common practice now, but an immersive VR experience like Table Rock has rarely been done before. Viewers of 360-degree videos can move left, right, top and bottom within a designated space. The space setting limitations are minimal when it comes to virtual reality experiences. VR Gives viewers the impression that they are within the setting itself when the footage was being recorded. Their movements and gestures impact what view they get, similar to real life.

McCormack has completed the Table Rock Mountain trek many times including once quite recently. He remarked that the VR experience of reaching the summit was better than what he imagined it would be. McCormack went as far as to say that the VR experience is an outstanding immersive alternative to the actual hike, which he is quite familiar with. He highlighted that people could visualise the hike without going out of breath. He remarked on the possibility of bringing more such VR experiences to the other parks in the state.

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