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July 28, 2010, Red Deer Express (Mark Weber)
City council adopts river valley plan
   City Council adopted a trails and parks planning tool Monday night in the form of the River Valley & Tributaries Park Concept Plan.
Red Deer River - Sigurdson photo RD Express   The long-term plan's purpose is to identify lands best suited for potential trails and parks within the City of Red Deer's 'growth area'.
   Marking a collaboration between the City of Red Deer and Red Deer County, one of the plan's 21 recommendations urges exploration of one day even designating the Red Deer River a 'municipal park'.
   Other recommendations include aggressively pursuing provincial and federal funding, identifying parcels for land purchase and the beginning of work with landowners and maximizing the use of Environmental Reserve to acquire lands adjacent to rivers, tributaries, lakes, sloughs, escarpments and other environmentally sensitive lands.
   "Parks and preservation planning for the City of Red Deer really began in the late to mid-1970s with a plan that talked about the Waskasoo Park System itself," said Trevor Poth, parks superintendent for the City of Red Deer.
   The purpose of this plan is to talk about where we are to date, but also to look forward to a future vision with a focus on Red Deer having a population of 300,000 people, he said.
   "It really represents what our vision is for our future parks system."
   Poth said to keep up the percentage of the City's land area at its current level, as much as 2,394 hectares of new parkland would need to be added to the Waskasoo Park system. Ultimately, he said the goal is to establish a linear park system focused on the Red Deer River, Blindman River, Piper Creek and Waskasoo Creek.
   "The key to this plan is to tie all of those areas together into one uniform parks system," he said, adding the area has a unique ecosystem that he pointed out has been well protected over the past 30 years.
   "This is just an extension of that, and a huge future benefit for the community."
   Key principles that also guided stakeholders' formation of the plan include following the river, connecting with trails, respecting nature and 'mixing it up' -- working towards a balanced park system with "lively populated places and quiet, solitary respites."
   Councillors were impressed by what they heard.
   "It helps to bring great tourism opportunities to the area," said Cindy Jefferies. "More and more, people are looking for more active holidays. The partnership with Red Deer County has also been great, and this is a real positive thing for us to work on together. So let's get on with it," she said.
   Councillor Larry Pimm said currently, the Waskasoo trail system means a great deal to local residents. Expansion of it only bodes well for future generations, he said.
   "To me, Waskasoo Park has been a great amenity for my family and I hope my grandchildren will be able to take their grandchildren through the additional areas and show them the wonderful things of nature."
   Meanwhile, City Council also approved the Environmental Master Plan's Situation Assessment -- the first phase of the plan that will guide Red Deer's environmental future over the next 25 years.
   Core directions identified to achieve the vision including 'Encourage, Educate, Engage, Enable, Expect', prioritizing growth to create vital, compact communities and protecting and enhancing green spaces.
   "It was so important that Red Deerians offered their opinions and ideas on how Red Deer can continue to not only improve its rich natural environment but also minimize our ecological footprint," said Lauren Maris, environmental program specialist with the City of Red Deer.
   For more about the Environmental Master Plan, check out
Photo: NEW PLAN - City council has adopted a trails and parks planning tool, known as the River Valley &
  Tributaries Park Concept Plan, which may one day see the Red Deer River known as a 'municipal park'.
  Photo by Tiffany Sigurdson, Red Deer Express

March 18, 2009, Red Deer Advocate (Paige Aarhus)
Building trails to paradise
   Red Deer County hopes several recreational pilot projects will help them move forward with its Open Spaces Master Plan.
   Trails connecting Springbrook to Penhold and Spruce View to Dickson, and a Cottonwood day-use area near Dickson Dam, have been touted as the first step towards turning Red Deer County into an outdoorsman's paradise.
   "As we go through the implementation of those projects, we will learn the process and carry that knowledge forward," said Alex Taylor, a planner from Dillon Consulting.
   Taylor described an intricate network of trails and outdoor recreational areas that could come to fruition under the plan at a Tuesday council meeting.
   At the same time, they warned council that it's necessary to take action and gain public support in order to implement the plan.
   "It's great to have a plan but we don't want it to end up as a report on a shelf," he said.
   The goal is to create a variety of open spaces throughout the county to take advantage of the scenery and existing landmarks of different areas, which would be connected by trails wherever possible.
   Taylor identified seven distinct zones within the county that could benefit from developing trail systems and recreational areas, including Alberta Central Railway, Medicine River, Ghost Pine and Boomtown.
   "Most of the landscape in the county is very beautiful. We want to work with existing features such as the trestle bridge," said Bev Sandalack, an environmental design professor who helped work on the plan.
   Several councillors expressed their enthusiasm for the plan and lamented the lack of trails in rural Alberta.
   "What seems like an anomaly to me is the lack of trails in a rural environment, compared to Europe and other areas," said Councillor Reimar Poth.
   Poth said the county is leading the province in terms of promoting a trail network, but acknowledged the difficulty lies in getting the public on board.
   Mayor Earl Kinsella agreed.
   "This is a very long-term project. Only with public support and funding will it ever get done," he said.
   Deputy mayor George Gehrke praised the plan and its goals, but argued landowners should approve of any changes to their property.
   "People who live on the land don't need a trail, they've got a trail going out their front door . . . People in the neighbourhood are not in favour of 'urbans' stomping through their yard, and they don't want to pay for it," he said.
   Planners began consultations for the plan in 2005. Another series of consultations and work on precise implementation strategies will be completed before it returns to council for approval.

April 24, 2008, Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley)
Clearwater County calls on province
for advice about trail

   Clearwater County wants the province's help in sorting out access issues along a proposed scenic trail along an abandoned rail line west of Rocky Mountain House.
   A letter has been sent to Alberta Sustainable Resources Development Minister Ted Morton asking that the province get involved in smoothing the way for the trail by working out agreements with companies owning timber rights along the anticipated 120-km trail route from Nordegg to Rocky Mountain House.
   "The trail will need the co-operation of Sustainable Resource Development and the timber companies in order to facilitate access to the trail," said Clearwater County Reeve Dwight Oliver.
   There are about a dozen stream crossings along the proposed route and there are a number of spots where trail users need to go off the former rail right-of-way to continue their journey. Before any further work can be done to push the trail project ahead, access issues need to be sorted out or major changes in the concept must be made, said Oliver.
   "At this point now, we've decided the first phase of this needs to be Sustainable Resource Development support for the concept and helping work out those types of details."
   Clearwater County has already committed $250,000 towards the cost of developing the trail, estimated at $1 million to $2 million. There is the possibility of tapping into more money using the province's Municipal Sustainability Initiative.
   The idea of turning the abandoned rail line into a tourist draw has been kicking around since the 1970s, when the province protected the land to ensure it remained intact.
   About five years ago, the county did some basic surveying work to gauge the condition of the route and to determine how much work will be involved in making it safe for hikers, mountain bikers and other users.
   Among the major jobs is replacing deck planking on three trestles as well as overhauling sections of the old line where railway ties are still in place.
   In recent months, the enthusiasm for tackling the project appears to be picking up steam.
   Interest has been growing among outdoors groups and local businesses and individuals have already volunteered to donate time and resources.
   Oliver said there has been "amazing support" from the community. "We're pretty confident this is going to be a long-term success."
   The tourism potential is considerable. B.C.'s Kettle Valley Railroad, an abandoned rail bed that winds through south central B.C. between Midway and Hope is a major draw for the area.
   If the Rocky to Nordegg trail project goes ahead, it is expected it would be built in sections over several years, likely starting in Nordegg and working east. The abandoned rail line ends about 20 km west of Rocky and a finishing leg would need to be mapped out.

Sept. 9, 2005, Red Deer Advocate (Greg Neiman)
Advocate View (Editorial)

On the trail of a worthy plan

   Every community needs people who can take a good idea, hold on to it and patiently work it into completion. People like Bob Johnstone, president of the Central Alberta Region Trail Society.
   He's bought into the idea that a national network of cycle and hiking trails would be a great legacy, and he's willing to invest an awful lot of his time to help bring local sections of that network into existence.
   Red Deer's trail system added 29 km to that network last June, and a trail marker in Bower Ponds will be officially unveiled on Saturday.
   Dedicating already-existing trails into the Trans Canada Trail system is obviously a good idea. But the TCT -- the longest cycling/hiking route in the world at 18,000 km -- won't be a reality until a whole lot of new trail is built.
   Although Alberta already has about 600 km of the trail completed, we have a long way to go, because the east-west route across Canada makes an intersection in Alberta with the route heading north into the Yukon.
   That means we get the nation's largest provincial portion of the trail, which -- as Johnstone could surely tell you -- is both a blessing and a challenge.
   It's a blessing because Alberta will have access to one of the world's top new tourism draws of the millennium (about 62 per cent of our section of the trail has been completed), and because Red Deer will be almost in the centre of it.
   A recent Price Waterhouse study done in Ontario gives an indication of how big a deal this idea can be. They concluded that once Ontario's part of the TCT is complete, it will add about $2.4 billion in value-added income to the province's economy. As much as 42,000 direct and indirect jobs will be added to the economy, fueled by the money that people spend using the trails.
   British Columbia needed no such study to conclude that it would be worth $13.4 million to rebuild or refurbish 14 trestle bridges that were destroyed or damaged in the forest fires of 2003.
   The Kettle Valley Trail, that runs 450 km over old railway beds (and the trestle bridges in the spectacular Myra Valley canyon), is a key part of Central B.C.'s tourism plan.
   In fact, they are spending even more money to expand the trail to 700 km, linking other existing trails and 18 communities in their Spirit of 2010 project.
   Alberta's recently-completed Iron Horse Trail runs for 300 km, much of it on old rail lines and is designed for four-season use. It now links Waskatenau (and from there, the Saskatchewan portion), to Cold Lake and beyond, to be linked with Alberta's capital region of the CTC. It's already proving to be a huge tourism booster.
   Even though the experience of people living along trails shows that the trails produce far fewer problems than benefits, getting stakeholder support (which includes local landowners) is proving to be a slow process.
   Another roadblock to the easy linking of communities (and their local trail networks) is the policy of Alberta Transport not to allow trail development along highways to link communities.
   A media spokesperson for Alberta Transportation and Infrastructure maintained the policy is to address safety concerns.
   But if there's no trail along the road allowance of a highway, a cyclist or hiker would have to travel the highway itself. That can't improve safety.
   It certainly can't be because of the cost, because local trail committees actually raise money for trail construction and upkeep -- and the trails more than pay for themselves in increased tourist trade anyway.
   Just ask the merchants at Bentley, who prosper each summer from the roadside trail linking the Aspen Beach campground on Gull Lake to the town.
   Even so, some local highway routes are fabulous bike routes all on their own.
   One example: Hwy 951 north of Leslieville is one of the most beautiful country rides you could find anywhere, and it links wonderfully on a circle route on Hwy 51 east to Bentley or west and south back to Rocky Mountain House.
   There are many other such routes, that beg for a linked trail network. Consider the route following the Boomtown Trail southeast of Red Deer.
   How much more successful could that tourism effort be if the provincial government allowed some of the communities on it to be linked on cycle trails just off the highways?
   These kinds of local roadblocks might be enough to make some dedicated volunteers just give up and stay home.
   But people like Bob Johnstone just keep on working. That's why communities need them.

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