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TAMPA — Lori Collins cannot provide the feeling of wind blowing through your hair or the warmth of the sun on your face. But she can recreate sites of the outside world through 3D digital scans.
Among the places her team at the University of South Florida’s Libraries Digital Heritage and Humanities Collections has scanned and turned into virtual tours are the four Native American ceremonial mounds and their surrounding parks maintained by the city of St. Petersburg and St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest masonry fort in the nation.
Now, as a service to those self-isolating to help stop the spread of coronavirus, those virtual tours and others have been compiled online through USF at dhhc.lib.usf.edu/virtual-tours.
“Let’s hope it is not, but this may be the new norm for a while,” Collins said of virtual tours replacing physical ones.
Collins and her team have been scanning historic places and structures for 15 years to prepare for the day when such sites might no longer be accessible to the public.
Still, Collins said, they figured that would happen because a site had been lost to time or climate change — they never considered a pandemic.
“While disease wasn’t something that jumped to the top of our minds, this shows how fragile everything we take for granted is,” Collins said.
Most of their scans were already available online. The City of St. Petersburg’s website, for instance, provides tours of the four sites with Native American mounds: Abercrombie Park, Jungle Prada de Narvaez Park, Maximo Park and Indian Mound Park.
And the Tampa Bay History Center’s website is home to a tour of the Jackson House, the segregation-era African American boarding home in downtown Tampa. It is now in such disrepair that it is too dangerous to enter.
But as self-isolation became the norm, USF’s Libraries Digital Heritage and Humanities Collections decided to create an all-encompassing landing page for their work.
Visitors can navigate the virtual tours with their mouse. Those with virtual reality goggles will have an even more immersive experience.
The tour of Abercrombie Park, for instance, takes visitors on a walk along its boardwalk path or to the beach and up to the water’s edge.
The 3D scans are so intricate that, for example, two walls near the Jackson House’s staircase bear the traces of where the Jackson family member dragged their fingers through still-wet stucco.
Other virtual tours include the Quiriguá Archaeological Park and Ruins in Guatamala and the Apollo 1 Memorial at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
St. Augustine’s 17th century Castillo de San Marcos, a popular tourist attraction, is temporarily closed because of coronavirus.
So, for now, virtually is the only way to enter the national monument’s dark rooms, see the cannons that once fended off enemies and climb to the fort’s top to look out upon the Matanzas River.
Still, St. Petersburg’s parks, including those four with Native American mounds, remain open, said Mike Jefferis, the city’s leisure services administrator.
“Staff is deployed and wiping everything down,” Jefferis said. “We have ambassadors reminding people to stay at a safe distance and not to congregate.”
But Jefferis understands that some prefer to stay away from public parks. So, he said, the virtual tours are the next best thing.
And for those who have never visited the Native American mounds, he thinks the virtual tours will entice them to one day take a trip to see them in real life.
“The virtual tours promote tourism,” Jefferis said “People do research to see what there is to do, find the virtual tours and plan a visit.”
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