Sunday, September 28, 2008

Regional Trails Will Become a Reality

After many years of indifference and some resistance, rural municipalities are warming up to the idea of regional trails linking urban municipalities, natural areas, historic sites and tourist attractions in Central Alberta. It may take several years for some potential trail corridors to become a reality but there are others that could be ready for public use in a year or two.

The concept of rural regional trails in the Red Deer region developed in the early 1990s with a strategy developed for a comprehensive regional trail network adopted in 1999 that involved active consultation with several urban and rural municipalities. A central north-south spine was envisioned that would ultimately become part of the Trans Canada Trail with a number of other trails branching out to the east and west.

Some municipalities embraced the concept immediately including the city of Red Deer and the towns of Lacombe, Innisfail and Sylvan Lake. The trails became an immediate hit with residents and today are viewed as the jewels of their respective communities. Unfortunately, there was considerable resistance to building inter-municipal trails from rural landowners who feared vandalism, trespassing, noise and liability issues. The resistance resulted in a cooling of enthusiasm among rural municipalities.

What a difference ten years makes!

Although there is still some skepticism and reservation on the part of some rural landowners, rural municipalities are seriously warming up to the concept as both a relatively inexpensive way of providing recreational opportunities for its citizens and an alternative environmentally-friendly form of non-motorized transportation, especially in some higher density corridors.

Lacombe County is helping to create linkages between the towns of Lacombe and Blackfalds as well as to its southern boundary with the recent announcement that it is contributing to the construction of a pedestrian/bicycle bridge across the Blindman River north of Red Deer.

Clearwater County is seriously considering an ambitious multi-year plan to create a multi-use trail linking Rocky Mountain House with the historic townsite of Nordegg along the abandoned railway right-of-way. Ponoka County is also seriously involved in having trails expand outward into the county from the existing system in the town of Ponoka.

Some of the most visionary plans for regional trails are being considered in Red Deer County. Although not yet approved by county council, administration has been working on an Open Spaces and Trails plan that would have several non-motorized trail corridors connecting most communities and recreational areas as well as major historic and natural features.

Some of the corridors include:
1) the north-south Calgary-Edmonton Trail corridor linking the Blindman River with Red Deer, Gasoline Alley, Springbrook, Penhold, Innisfail and Bowden. The Springbrook-Penhold section has already been approved and is expected to be completed next year;
2) the east-west Alberta Central Railway corridor linking Benalto, Sylvan Lake, the Red Deer River and the city of Red Deer using portions of the abandoned historic Alberta Central Railway right-of-way that was operated by Canadian Pacific until the early 1980s;
3) the north-south Scandanavian-Medicine River corridor linking Glennifer Lake with Dickson, Spruceview, Markerville and Benalto. The Dickson-Spruceview section has been approved and is expected to be completed within the next year or two.

Other corridors would link Penhold with Pine Lake, Red Deer with the Joffre bridge on the Red Deer River, Red Lodge Park with Bowden, Glennifer Lake with Innisfail, and Elnora with Lousana and Delburne along the Boomtown trail.

On another front, the city of Red Deer and Red Deer County are planning for the ultimate expansion of the much loved Waskasoo Park into future annexation and joint planning areas around the city, especially along major waterways and tributaries including the Red Deer and Blindman Rivers, Waskasoo and Piper Creeks and other local streams.

All of these initiatives will ultimately lead to the protection and appreciation of natural and historic areas, provide opportunities for agri-tourism, recreation and hospitality businesses and encourage people of all ages to enjoy the many features the region has to offer. In the more populated areas, it will also provide a transportation alternative to driving our vehicles to get to employment, educational and recreational attractions.

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