An overdue salute to the trail builders

Ms. Canmore Runner enjoying the superbly built High Rockies Trail – Photo: Canmore Runner

I’ve been remiss. I’ve spent almost two years enjoying spectacular trails in and around Canmore and Kananaskis. And i’ve spent close to 18 months writing about those trails on this blog. But have I once spared a thought – or a word or two – for those that volunteer their time and effort to actually build and maintain these trails? Nope. Time to right that wrong as I wouldn’t be having all this fun and adventure without the vision, dedication and hard work of the trail builders. 

A lot of credit for trail building in the Canmore area lies with Lawrence Grassi, who emigrated to Canada from Italy in 1912. Grassi’s biography describes him as “a trailblazer in every sense of the word. A working-class man of humble Italian origins who worked as a labourer and a coal miner for most of his life, Grassi had a deep passion for the Rocky Mountains. He was famous in the region for his commitment as a guide, a mountain climber, and a builder of greatly admired hiking trails.”

Plaque commemorating Lawrence Grassi at Grassi Lakes – Photo: Canmore Runner

Other local notables are Doug Campbell’s Trailminders who built and maintained trails around Canmore from 1992-2007. According to Taryn Hajnyrch, in The Tale of the Trail Minders, their vision was to build new trails that would be safe, enjoyable and have the least possible impact on the landscape and wildlife. The group believed strongly that Canmore’s peaks should be accessible to all. They “officially went rogue” in the fight to open up the summits of Ha Ling, Lady Mac and the East End of Rundle “to hikers, rather than just those who were able and willing to navigate cliffs and scramble through scree”. And I thank them for it.

In 1996, the Friends of Kananaskis Country was founded and now runs an extensive volunteer trail care programme in Kananaskis in partnership with Alberta Parks. Their last annual report notes that the Friends delivered more than 5,000 hours of trail care in 2013. The Friends have also assisted Alberta TrailNet and McElhanney Consulting Services with the building of the spectacular High Rockies Trail. They also host an annual Trails Fest, the next edition of which takes place at Kananaskis Village on 11 June. The event will consist of multiple activities that showcase the many ways trails are used.

The newest arrival on the trail building scene is the Canmore Trail Alliance (CTA). CTA was launched this year to help build, maintain, and plan Canmore area trails. It’s coordinated through the Friends of Kananaskis Country and partners with Alberta Parks, the Town of Canmore, as well as recreational groups, clubs and businesses (including Canmore Trail Culture) and the community at large. The CTA’s role includes:

  • Identifying trail projects that require volunteer work.
  • Providing trained crew leaders to lead volunteer crews.
  • Helping develop and advance trail initiatives that enhance Canmore area trails.
  • Representing trail users.

If you want to join the ranks of the trail builders check out the Friends of Kananaskis and CTA websites. CTA, for example, will hold trail days on Thursday evenings from 6-9pm and every/or alternate Saturday mornings from 9am-12pm. Dates and project details are posted on the CTA website and its Facebook page.

And why would’t you want to join their ranks? In a post last year, I wrote about the importance of volunteering at races – that without volunteers there would in most, if not all, cases be no race. If you race, you’re part of a community and you rely on, and benefit from, the generosity of others. You have to return the favour. You have to give back to the community.

Surely the same can be said of trail building. These incredible trails don’t make and maintain themselves. They are, for the most part, built and maintained by volunteers who spend their spare time and energy creating and ensuring our access to the trail running paradise that is Canmore and Kananaskis. If you haven’t already, why not return that favour too and give back to the community. I certainly plan to.

Until next time, happy trails.

3 thoughts on “An overdue salute to the trail builders

  1. Derek Ryder 03/06/2016 / 15:19

    FYI: The Friends were founded in 1996, not 2005. 2016 marks our 20th Anniversary, and if we had better record keeping as an organization, we would celebrate our anniversary more…

    Thanks for the shout out. We’re here for Kananaskis trails.

    Derek Ryder
    Friends of Kananaskis


  2. adamhaesler 05/06/2016 / 01:58

    Thank you for this, I need to get involved in helping with the trails here in BC.

    Catchya later😃


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