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Media News Articles 2020 concerning trails in Central Alberta

November 4, 2020, Red Deer Advocate, by Paul Cowley
Trails could lead to tourism boost
Trails for off-road vehicles, hikers and mountain bikers could become international visitor draws
   An Olds-to-Lacombe cycling trail -- along with backcountry hiking and off-road vehicle treks in the forests west of Rocky Mountain House -- are pitched as ways to put the region on the tourism map.
   The Central Alberta Tourism Alliance, which includes area municipalities and tourism groups, commissioned the recently released Our Path Forward study.
   The 83-page report by RC Strategies+PERC recommends creating "signature trails" to tap into destination tourism markets as part of a 10-year plan.
   Alliance chairman Jerry Pratt said one of the main purposes of the study was to create an inventory of the trails in the area and to follow up on previous work done in a destination management plan and accommodation study.
   "We wanted to take a look at what could raise our trails up possibly from being just recreation trails to tourism attraction trails. The consultant did a pretty good job outlining what it would take to do that."
   The Central Alberta Heritage Cycling Route is designed to use existing trails in the area to create a 120-kilometre cycling route.
   Future trails might link Red Deer to Sylvan Lake and Red Deer to the historic Mintlaw rail bridge south of Red Deer through the proposed 30-kilometre Alberta Central Rail to Trail project.
   To cater to hikers and backpackers, a Continental Divide Hut to Hut Backpacking Experience is proposed to take advantage of the large network of existing trails in the wilderness west of Rocky Mountain House.
   Using routes such as the Cline River and Coral Creek trails, a 138-kilometre route with huts strategically placed for overnight stays could be created.
   The Rocky Mountain House to Bighorn Backcountry Off-Highway Vehicle Trail Experience would be aimed at ATV, hikers and mountain bikers, and would use an abandoned rail line between the town and Nordegg.
   On-trail accommodations and a new campground near the Bighorn Dam would encourage overnight stays.
   There appears to be a ready home-grown market out there for the kinds of trails envisioned. The short-haul market (within a three-hour drive) includes an estimated 1.3 million day hikers, 137,000 overnight backpackers, 1.2 million cyclists, 247,000 mountain bikers and 357,792 off-road vehicle users.
   But the alliance wanted the study to look beyond provincial, and even national, borders.
   "We were looking beyond just the province. We were looking nationally and internationally.
   "A signature trail is something where someone is willing to pay to fly out and to come and stay in hotels and that kind of thing," said Pratt, offering the Appalachian Trail in the U.S. and a trail network in New Zealand as examples of destinations with international reputations.
   Developing signature trails will take time and money. Trailheads and accommodation, whether campgrounds, hiking huts, bed and breakfasts, or small hotels will be needed. Tourist operators ready to cater to visitors would also eventually be important to creating a destination.
   There is work already underway on the trail linking Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg, which is being slowly cleared a few kilometres at a time.
   The province has also shown support, providing $600,000, which will be used to restore the Taunton Rail Bridge east of Nordegg in Clearwater County, where Pratt serves as economic development officer.
   There are hopes the province will make some of the Crown land in the area available for the development of a campground to support the trail.
Photo: So-called signature trails are recommended as ways of attracting international visitors to the wilderness in the western part of the region. Canadian Press photo

November 3, 2020, RDNewsNOW (online), by Sheldon Spackman
Seeking a path forward
Study shares how to advance local trails tourism
   The Central Alberta Tourism Alliance (CATA) has released a study on how trails-based infrastructure can be grown to support related tourism businesses and boost the region's economy.
   The study, entitled Our Path Forward, provides an inventory of trails across central Alberta, including those well-suited to offer tourism experiences along with identifying opportunities to develop networks of market-ready signature trails. The study also recommends strategies to enhance trail systems throughout CATA communities in order to help grow the local visitor economy.
   Officials describe it as a framework in which CATA and its partners can work collaboratively with industry, tourism operators, and land managers to advance trails tourism, and ultimately, sustainably reach the area's trails tourism potential.
   CATA chair Jerry Pratt says trails were identified as a significant asset to the region's tourism potential during the creation of a Destination Management Plan five years ago.
   "As we were going through trying to promote the area, in each municipality, we figured out that we didn't know how many trails we had or what types of trails we had" admits Pratt. "So we wanted to take an inventory to be able to say that we have this much for biking, and hiking, and quadding, and equestrian From there, we also grew into, how can we elevate our trails so they actually become provincial, national and international tourism attractions to help grow the business of tourism in our area?"
   After competing the study, Pratt says they were surprised by how many kilometres of 'official' trails there are throughout central Alberta.
   "We actually have just-under 4,000 kilometres of 'official' trails in the municipalities that participated in this," said Pratt. "Then of course there's thousands of kilometres of 'unofficial' trails out there as well. 'Official' trails are trails that are recognized by some level of government or an organization with some level of maintenance and signage that supports them."
   Member municipalities that make up the informal partnership of CATA include the City of Red Deer, Tourism Red Deer, Red Deer County, Town of Innisfail, Town of Blackfalds, Lacombe Regional Tourism, Town of Sylvan Lake, Town of Rocky Mountain House, and Clearwater County.
   Pratt suggests the more investment made
in a trail, the more businesses it will attract, such as mountain bike rental companies or campgrounds.
   "Trail development actually improves the local quality of life and recreation," adds Pratt. "And as a trail is developed even more, it attracts people from further away to come participate in that, but also providing job opportunities and business investment opportunities at the same time."
   Pratt says their path forward includes sharing their findings with the provincial government and taking a hard look at what financial investments might be needed to help elevate area trails to a level where they become an attraction for people from not only around the province, but from across the country and around the world.
   "A lot of that being around the trailhead area with better signage and amenities that go with it and hopefully to link them up," he explains.
   Pratt points to a Nordegg to Rocky Mountain House trail already in the works.
   "If we could link some of them (trails) between our municipalities, it provides a better, longer experience, making it worth people travelling for. We are blessed in central Alberta to have trails for hiking, mountain biking, equestrian use, and OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) as well, and with so many different trails, we have the opportunity to attract a lot of people here to enjoy what they want. We just have to make sure that the trail experience is going to be good for the visitor."
Photos courtesy of Town of Blackfalds

August 20, 2020, Red Deer Advocate, by Lana Michelin
City 'rehabilitating' tunnel under 32nd Street
   The $2-million stabilization of an aging tunnel that allows Red Deer trail users to pass under 32nd Street is now underway.
   Since that pedestrian tunnel south of Kin Kanyon is closed, cyclists and other trail users are being asked to temporarily detour onto 32nd Street.
   Lee Birn, engineer planning superintendent for the City of Red Deer, said city workers had noticed one of four retaining walls around the pedestrian underpass had shifted out of position.
   Since these concrete forms were first installed in 1962, he said it was time for a "rehabilitation project of the existing concrete structure."
   The goal is to replace the one shifted retaining wall on the northeast side, better anchor the other three retaining walls to the embankment, and make them all more aesthetically pleasing with the addition of new architectural details.
   Birn said workers are also planning to eliminate the 90-degree turns that connect the trails with the tunnel as cyclists have a hard time navigating such "abrupt" corners. "We want to make them smoother for the users of the underpass."
   By angling the retaining walls back a bit, the turns can be reconfigured to a 45-degree angle instead, he added.
   The tunnel's interior wall, meanwhile, will be sand-blasted and repainted with an anti-graffiti coating that should be less adhesive to spray paint -- or at least make it easier to remove, said Birn.
   Some additional landscape plantings will be done.
   Birn said the project is being done by contractors, with an expected completion date of late October.
Photo: A $2-million project is underway to improve and stabilize culverts that allow trail users to pass under Red Deer's 32nd Street via a concrete tunnel. Photo by Lana Michelin/Advocate staff.

July 14, 2020, RDNewsNOW (online), by staff
Council awards contract for Lacombe trail connection project
   Residents of Lacombe will soon be able to enjoy a new trail connection offering access to a natural recreation area with views overlooking marshlands and Whelp Creek.
   On Monday, Council approved the award of a contract to Timcon Construction for the detailed design and construction of a stairway trail connector for the Fairway Heights Willow Ridge Network.
   According to City officials, the approval of the $102,825 project, including a 10 per cent contingency, falls well within the budgeted amount of $200,000.
   "Council is excited to finalize this project as it will greatly improve the connectivity for this well used trail," said Mayor Grant Creasey, in a press release. "Improving our city recreational assets aligns well with our commitment to making Lacombe a more walkable community and enhancing our underutilized property."
   At their January 27, 2020 meeting, council approved this project with the inclusion of a natural trail with loops at both the north and south ends creating a figure "8" out in both directions from the stairway.
   The project will add one trail linkage and fitness feature similar to existing trails elsewhere within the city.
   "Trail users visiting this area really appreciate the immersive natural experience," said Director of Community Services Deborah Juch. "These new stairs and trail connection will preserve that and add to the City's extensive system."
   Work on the project will begin this summer and is expected to be completed by fall.

April 2, 2020, Red Deer Advocate, by Paul Cowley
Red Deer County's trails taskforce looking for volunteers
Taskforce will plot out a trails vision for county
   Red Deer County is looking for some trail-minded people to join a new task force.
   Its mission will be to take a close look at what sort of trails -- divisional, regional or local -- should be developed.
   Recommending the best locations, and which trails should take priority, as well as what kinds of surface or standards should be adopted, will also be among its duties.
   Public input will be sought and the task force will reach out to government and non-profit and private groups interested in trail development.
   The task force will have up to seven members, including two county council representatives and up to five members of the public.
   To ensure all areas of the county are represented, the county hopes to have people involved who live in the east, west and central parts.
   Gauging public support for regional projects, or whether smaller-scale local trails are preferred, will be among the task force's jobs.
   Assessing the cost of both building and maintaining trails will also form part of the work, which is expected to come back to council in the form of recommendations later this year.
   Depending on how the pandemic unfolds and what Alberta Health directives remain in place, committee members could have a different experience than usual.
   Community Services Manager Jo-Ann Symington said the group might have to meet through video conferencing.
   "Of course, safety is paramount to us," said Symington.
   The county, like other municipalities, has many staff working from home and is using video conferencing, teleconferencing and other means to go about their work without risking physical contact.
   County offices are closed to the public.
   The deadline for task force applications is April 30.

March 6, 2020, Red Deer Advocate, by Paul Cowley
Red Deer County
Task force to examine trail development
   A Red Deer County task force has been launched to look at trail possibilities.
   Trails and more rural recreational opportunities were identified in a community needs assessment study the county undertook in 2017. A community well-being study further highlighted the local support for more opportunities to walk, hike, cycle and run on established trails in the county.
   Since then, the county has boosted its recreation support in response to that part of the survey's findings.
   "We started doing that in 2019, and it's going with great success," said Dave Brand, county community and protective services director.
   Forming a task force to look at trails is another effort to act on the recommendations of the needs assessment.
   "The reason for the task force is to allow a community- or county-based group to gather some information from our residents and recommend some priorities with respect to where or what should be built," said Brand.
   The task force will include two members of council and up to five members of the public, drawn from the corners of the county.
   In support of the project, the county set aside $60,000 in this year's budget.
   The task force will be set up this spring and will take a close look at what sorts of trails - divisional, regional or local - should be developed. Recommending the best locations and which trails should take priority, as well as what kinds of surface or standards should be adopted, will also be among its duties.
   Public input will be sought and the task force will reach out to government and non-profit and private groups interested in trail development.
   Trail boosters in central Alberta have been trying for years to create new routes linking communities. In 2016, Red Deer County turned down a proposed 11-kilometre link between Springbrook and Red Deer.
   Council backed away because of concerns public support was unclear and necessary firm commitments from donors had not materialized for what would have been a multimillion dollar project.
   Gauging public support for those sorts of regional projects, or whether smaller-scale local trails are preferred, will be among the task force's jobs.
   Assessing the cost of both building and maintaining trails will also form part of the work, which is expected to come back to council in the form of recommendations later this year.
   "We'd expect it could align with our next budget cycle with respect to recommendations," he said.
   The county typically approves its operating and capital budgets for the following year in December.
Photo: A man walks along the trail after a long day of work on the Waskasoo Park Trails in Red Deer, AB on Tuesday 24 May 2016. Red Deer Advocate file photo.

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