KANANASKIS COUNTRY – Anytime the Friends of Kananaskis Country can help leave a trail better than they found it, they’re happy. Anytime they can take the reins of a $240,000 trail project on their stomping grounds, they’re ecstatic.
For co-chair and communications director Derek Ryder, news of the province giving the trail stewards a grant to rebuild a section of Powderface Creek trail is worthy enough to shout from a mountaintop, but announcing it in the local newspaper is almost as good.
“This is really transformative for us. This is project stuff we’ve helped with but never really been the project managers of before,” he said.
“In that context, it’s very exciting because there’s lots of opportunity for other areas of K-Country that need work and that we can tackle, if we execute this well.”
What’s more, the entire amount is funded by the Kananaskis Conservation Pass, and people will notice the difference it makes when the project is done, Ryder pledged.
“This is where people are, these are hyper-popular trails, this is not boonies-type stuff and small bits that nobody seems to care about. No, this is a big deal. People will notice this, people will enjoy it,” he said. “These are trails that have been used for years and will continue to be used.”
The Friends have an agreement with the Ministry of Forestry, Parks and Tourism for trail maintenance in the Sibbald area, and the northwest portion of the Kananaskis Country Public Land Use Zone, where Powderface Creek trail is located. In 2021, the Friends identified the trail as needing maintenance and repairs far beyond what volunteers could do.
Ryder said the grant will help rebuild the westernmost 3.5 kilometres of the trail, which has a creek crossing through it and was mostly washed out after the 2013 floods. To eliminate future flood risk and erosion damage, this area of the trail will be rebuilt on dry, scenic slopes. Adjustments will lengthen the trail by about 700 metres.
“If we push it into the forest a little ways, we’ll be able to create a more sustainable trail that’s out of harm’s way,” said Ryder. “The enemies of trails are water and people, but a properly built trail will withstand use from people and ideally be built in an area it won’t get washed out.”
The 12.2 km trail starts from Highway 66 and ends at the Powderface Trail, a dirt road which permits snowmobile access in the winter. The trail also offers access to Powderface Ridge, and on the east side, it connects to the Elbow Falls area.
“It forms part of a fairly well-used complex of trails and it’s been especially popular with mountain bikers and hikers in the last couple of years,” said Ryder. “It’s a multi-use trail and so the damages are just kind of off-the-charts.
“Normally, the Friends tap into our membership to provide thousands of hours of volunteer time to help on trail repair projects. But due to the condition of this trail, reconstruction using heavy equipment is needed prior to our volunteers coming in.”
Ryder said he feels the project being handed over to the Friends is reflective of their work over the years as trail stewards for Kananaskis Country, in parks and on public land.
While non-profit organizations such as Bragg Creek Trails, which has a long history of working in the PLUZ, have subcontracted trail work in the area before, this is a first for the Friends – the oldest and largest volunteer group that supports Alberta Parks and public land trails.
Work on Powderface Creek trail requires the non-profit to hire contractors to project manage, gain needed approvals from the province, create request for proposals (RFPs), get tenders, and hire construction firms.
Ryder estimates trail work will be complete by October 2024, but there will only be intermittent closures when heavy equipment is on-site, otherwise, the route will remain open. Closures will be communicated by the Friends and through Alberta Parks' website when construction begins.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” said Ryder. “Successful execution of this two-year project will facilitate building capacity within the organization, which will enable tackling larger scale projects into the future.”
An additional $100,000 was granted to the Friends of Kananaskis Country to retain and enhance staffing levels to further enhance trail care efforts elsewhere in the PLUZ. In 2022, the Friends put in over 2,700 hours of volunteer time in support of K-Country trails.
“[We] see numerous opportunities to improve the existing trail network and enable additional volunteer efforts in an area that hasn’t seen much trail love for a number of years,” said Ryder.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.