The winter sport season had a slow start due to a warm December and a severe cold snap in January, but enthusiasts are still enjoying the trails in Rocky View County.
“I haven't seen any decrease in usage,” said Conrad Schiebel, president of Bragg Creek Trails (BCT), adding the parking lot was full last weekend.
The biggest challenge for the BCT Association is the unpredictable weather, according to Schiebel. With no snow to groom in December, they couldn’t start training their new staff to use grooming equipment.
“We have a decent base for cross country skiing and fast biking, but every time it warms up the bottom falls out of it, and then we have to start fresh again,” Schiebel said.
The more work is done to renovate trails, the more risk there is to worsen the trails, he added. BCT is using its bobcat and sleds to work on trails and is training staff to use a new piece of equipment to groom trails, a snow rabbit.
“We just didn't have the proper conditions, because you need a certain snow depth for the snow rabbit to operate properly,” he said.
Local ski shops host events throughout the season providing opportunities for people to try winter sports, they provide rentals in Bragg Creek as well as lessons.
After recently signing off on a new trails master plan, BCT has a priority list of trails to work on and Schiebel is focused on getting the proper approvals and fundraising this year.
He said some work could be seen this spring but work is limited in the summer due to a migratory bird window during which they can’t fell trees or work on the underbrush.
“If we can get the right of way cleared in the fall, then the following year, we can get in there with the equipment that we need to actually rough in a new trail tread,” Schiebel said.
BCT’s primary focus right now is maintaining existing trails and converting some winter trails to all season trails.
The trails master plan
A trails master plan covering a large piece of provincial Crown land in northeast Kananaskis Country proposes 20 kilometres of new trails in response to increased visitation, environmental and public safety considerations.
The West Bragg Creek trails master plan calls to decommission 3.6 km of mostly unauthorized and ecologically unsustainable trails, while creating year-round use for others.
“Some of that was provided through input from the public about what they wanted to see on the landscape, but also the public started putting in trails where they thought the trails should go,” Schiebel said.
“So, there are trails starting to pop up that kind of indicated there was a deficiency on the landscape as far as our connectivity.”
The trail association, which has managed the area trail network in partnership with the province since 2010, teamed up with the Ministry of Forestry and Parks to create the plan.
“The level of trail use in the area has grown significantly over the years and the diversity of users and activities has expanded,” states the plan.
Schiebel noted increased visitation in the area has led to more damage, some of it relating to various recreational uses, including cross-country skiing, hiking, biking and equestrian activities.
“What we’ve really endeavoured to do is, especially in the wintertime, provide equestrian users with their own trails, and that continues to be part of the plan is to get horses going in a different direction from other users,” he said.
The planning document proposes new trails and upgrades or reroutes to improve connectivity, safety and visitor experience, while minimizing environmental impact.
Criteria involves keeping trails at least 30 metres away from riparian zones, no water and wetland crossings, sustainability with climate change and a trail footprint that does not extend into areas previously undisturbed.
The plan aims to convert 14 winter-only trails over time to permit year-round use.
“People are going there anyway. The trails that we had roughed in for winter use were designed to be carried out on a snowpack, and after the snow melts, that trail is not in the best shape for hiking or biking,” said Schiebel. “Now, we’re looking at those just to clean them up and bring them up to a trail standard that can be used in the summertime as well.”
Implementation of proposed changes to the trail network will occur over several years as funding, approvals and other resources are secured, with much of that also dependent on volunteer capacity.
The 84-page document replaces the 2010 All Seasons Trail Plan and aims to create a comprehensive trail network of a multi-use landscape.
-With files from Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter