Trans Canada Trail in
Rails to Trails
History of CARTS
Friends of Trails
History of CARTS
celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2009, the society reflected on how the
organization started, progressed and evolved to where it is today.
The concept of a regional trails network in Central Alberta can be
traced back to at least 1987 with the completion of Waskasoo Park in Red
Deer. Other communities also developed municipal recreational trail
systems soon afterwards, including Innisfail, Lacombe and Sylvan Lake
with several other communities at that time planning trails for the
future. There was also a rural trail built linking Bentley with Gull
Lake along Highway 12.
Around 1994, a group of individuals, with support from Alberta TrailNet,
proposed a trail linking Red Deer with Sylvan Lake using the abandoned
Alberta Central Railway (a division of Canadian Pacific) right of way.
The proposal met with a great deal of resistance from adjoining
landowners who believed that they had first right of refusal to purchase
those lands. There was also considerable question about the viability of
using the railway trestle across the river. At the time, Canadian
Pacific was hesitant in selling the land in case they needed it in the
Meanwhile, around 1992, the idea of the Trans Canada Trail had
originated with the Canada 125 Corporation, the organization set up to
celebrate confederation's 125th birthday. They provided the initial
funding for the Trans Canada Trail Foundation, which launched in 1994.
The foundation spent the first year establishing itself with
user-related organizations throughout Canada, such as Alberta TrailNet
which is the Alberta representative organization and secured the support
of several sponsors including Canada Trust, Canada Post, Chrysler Canada
and TSN/RDS. Since then, other sponsors have contributed to the
promotion and building of the trail, including Bell Canada, Canadian
Pacific Railway, Canadian Geographic, Raleigh Bicycles, Canadian Tourism
Commission, and others.
The first sections of the Trans Canada Trail officially opened in
Early in 1998, a preliminary group of individual Central Albertans
representing various agencies including the City of Red Deer, Red Deer
County, Parkland Community Planning Services, Alberta TrailNet, Red Deer
Visitor and Convention Bureau, Normandeau Cultural and Natural History
Society, and Red Deer River Naturalists, came together to form the
Central Alberta Regional Trails Initiative.
This group proposed the creation of the Central Alberta Regional
Trails Master Plan project to identify the issues, concerns, support,
and ideas regarding the designation and development of recreational
trail linkages in rural Central Alberta.
The project's budget was $65,000, of which $43,500 was designated for
the hiring of Deb Comfort for one year (Sept. 1998-Aug. 1999) to
co-ordinate the development of the plan. Funding was supplied by the Red
Deer & District Community Foundation ($22,000), Lottery Funding
($41,000) and the City of Red Deer ($2,000). The city also contributed
office space and equipment for the project. Funding applications on
behalf of the project were submitted by the Normandeau Cultural and
Natural History Society.
The original terms of reference for the project proposal and
funding applications were as follows:
1. To ensure public participation and input as a vital component of
all stages of the project;
2. Complete a Master Plan and Development Strategy for a regional
trail and green space corridor system;
3. Facilitate the designation of a local regional trail system,
through the development of a comprehensive concept plan, which
incorporates the Trans Canada Trail;
4. Produce guidelines for standards, users, support and costs for
the development of the regional trail system;
5. Complete a map inventory of all existing trail linkages within
the project area from which regional trail alternatives can be planned;
6. Identify the Central Alberta trail component to be immediately
designated as the Trans Canada Trail;
7. Identify possible range of users including information on public
access, insurance, liability and legal issues related to trail
8. Be a unified and consistent voice in promoting the Regional
The initial project study area was broadly defined as an area from
Innisfail east to the Red Deer River, north along the river, then west
through the villages of Alix, Tees, Clive, through Lacombe and west to
Bentley, then south to Sylvan Lake and on to Innisfail.
With several other communities wishing to participate in the
project, the area was expanded to include the communities of Bowden,
Elnora, Mirror, College Heights, Markerville, Dickson and Benalto --
roughly the area encompassing the Counties of Red Deer and Lacombe.
Once funding was established, and objectives identified, the first
phase of the project included information collection, regional contact
identification and the first information meeting.
One of the terms of reference of the project was to identify and
utilize a regionally representative Steering Committee that would act as
a guiding group for the project, process and progress. A letter of
invitation, under the signature of the Mayor of Red Deer and Reeve of
Red Deer County, outlining the project and its purpose, was sent to all
municipalities, known recreation boards, and previously involved
interest groups. This original group of about 70 people was identified
in October 1998 at the first initial information meeting held in
Out of the regional steering committee, a smaller management
sub-committee was identified to set up meetings and deal with day to day
issues arising from the project.
Looking ahead to the completion of the project, the management
sub-committee set out to create a society that would continue to act as
a regionally representative group concerned with the future designation
and development process of trails in the region.
In January 1999, the Central Alberta Regional Trails Society
(CARTS) was born, made up primarily of the management sub-committee.
These volunteers were present and provided support at all public
meetings, assisted with property owner mail outs and provided feedback
and direction for the project surveys and process.
During this time,
there was considerable support and excitement from the various
municipalities, organizations, interest groups and individuals involved
with the project, including Red Deer County, Lacombe County and Central
Alberta Regional Museums Network.
Mail outs were sent to 1100 property owners along possible trail routes
and a series of five public meetings with a combined attendance of 293
people were held throughout the project area, including Sylvan Lake,
Innisfail, Delburne, Pine Lake and Lacombe. A sixth and final meeting
was held in Red Deer in June 1999 identifying trends and preliminary
recommendations based on public feedback.
Unfortunately, most of the initial feedback was generated primarily
from residents of towns and villages rather than from rural areas. Some
of the publicity implied that identified conceptual routes were proposed
for immediate development, some going through private land, creating
great concern, alarm and even a feeling of betrayal by rural residents.
However, many positive outcomes resulted from the process, including the
identification and feasibility of future potential trail routes, the
establishment of the Central Alberta Regional Trails Society as the
collective voice for the promotion of trail designation and/or trail
development, the compilation of a map inventory of existing and future
trails for the project area, provision of public information regarding
the benefits of trails, the raising of community awareness and support
of regional trails, and the identification of the area's historic routes
and sites, community points of interest and natural areas.
During the first few years of the Society's existence, a number of
individuals and municipalities grew impatient and frustrated with the
slow progress of trail development in the region and subsequently lost
interest. The loss of interest was most noticeable with the rural
municipalities as they became increasingly influenced by the negative
reactions of a handful of rural taxpayers who were threatened by and
therefore opposed to rural trails. There was also a feeling that trails
would only benefit urban folks.
However, a stalwart handful of individuals persisted and
persevered, most notably the late Bob Johnstone, in spite of the
negativity and apparent lack of progress in getting rural linkages
established in Central Alberta. The Society maintained a close
relationship with Alberta TrailNet and expanded its area to include
A few years ago, with restricted volunteer resources, the Society
decided to concentrate on the establishment of the Trans Canada Trail
north-south corridor through the region and put other regional rural
corridors on the back burner until the goal of firmly establishing the
TCT has been accomplished, if at all possible, by 2010.
Although a series of trails in Red Deer were registered as Trans Canada
Trail a few years earlier, the pavilion at Bower Ponds was officially
dedicated in 2005. Other communities having TCT designation include
Innisfail, Lacombe and Ponoka.
The Trans Canada Trail Foundation contracted a consultant (Derry
Armstrong) a few years ago to assist the Society in establishing the TCT
between Ponoka and Penhold in as short a time as possible. It is largely
through Derry's efforts that considerable progress has been made,
particularly with a renewal of support for rural trails in the counties
of Red Deer, Lacombe and Ponoka.
In 2009, funding was secured from a variety of sources to construct
two river bridges for the Trans Canada Trail crossing the Blindman River
north of Red Deer and across the Battle River at Ponoka. Also in 2009,
Red Deer County purchased the Mintlaw railway trestle across the Red
Deer River and the abandoned Alberta Central Railway between the bridge
and Sylvan Lake for possible future use as a trail.
It has been very encouraging in recent months so see the rural
municipalities take a proactive role in planning for future trail
corridors linking communities and points of interest and promoting
trails for new residential developments. Sections of rural trails are
under development including sections between Springbrook and Penhold and
between Lacombe and Ponoka County. The trail between Blackfalds and
Lacombe was officially opened in 2013 and a study is underway for
linking Red Deer and Springbrook. Progress has been made to develop a
trail linking Penhold, Innisfail and Bowden.