Over 150 people came out to Irricana on Sunday morning to celebrate the official grand opening of the Meadowlark Trail – a non-motorized, 9.75-kilometre pathway that links the communities of Beiseker and Irricana.
After a pancake breakfast put on by the Irricana Lions Club and some speeches from a few of the project stakeholders, groups of enthusiastic cyclists and walkers took off from the Irricana trailhead toward Beiseker, approximately 10 km away, around 11 a.m.
The 10km Meadowlark Trail connecting Beiseker and Irricana is officially open! I was at the ribbon cutting this morning and will be making a video for our Facebook pages. Here’s the first wave of bikers departing from the Irricana side: pic.twitter.com/YrvSpo1lbK— Scott Strasser (@scottstrasser19) June 4, 2023
The trail has been in the works since at least 2018, when representatives of the Meadowlark Trail Society approached Rocky View County to re-designate the land the trail is now situated on.
However, talks about developing a recreational pathway between Irricana and Beiseker actually began much earlier – as long ago as the mid-2000s, according to Linda Strong-Watson, executive director of Alberta TrailNet Society, who was there on Sunday to celebrate the amenity's unveiling.
"We've obviously been at this for a long, long time," she told the Rocky View Weekly. "We started probably 17 or 18 years ago in terms of a vision and starting to go after changes to land-use and things like that, which allowed us to proceed with the project. This is a real celebration, not only for Alberta TrailNet, but of all the efforts of all the people who worked on the trail with us.
"To see everyone turn out and take off and go down the trail – it's worth 1,000 smiles and a million words, quite frankly."
Originally supposed to open in 2020, the trail faced a few delays that postponed its public unveiling, including the COVID-19 pandemic, bureaucratic red tape, and a small amount of push-back from area residents who own parts of land the trail passes through.
"There are many stages to trail development," Strong-Watson said. "Getting the change of land-use probably took five or six years. And then we had two different development permits to apply for [to build] the culverts and the bridges.
"The whole planning, design process and then construction...[means] it's been a big project."
After the original ribbon-cutting at the Irricana trailhead, a second ribbon-cutting was held at the Beiseker side of the trail around 1 p.m. The festivities continued in that community into the late afternoon, with live music and a hotdog lunch available for attendees to enjoy.
Irricana Mayor Jim Bryson said developing the inter-municipal trail has brought residents and the two governments of Irricana and Beiseker together. He added the pathway will provide recreational benefits to both residents and visitors alike.
"We've tied two great communities together," he said. "We've created a facility for exercise, for getting out and enjoying.
"This is the first of hopefully many [ways] moving forward to bring our communities together."
While he said it's a long way "down the road," Bryson hinted a possible long-term expansion of the Meadowlark Trail to the community of Acme, located north of Beiseker, is not out of the question.
"The sky's the limit," he said.