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Hike, bike or snowshoe this multi-use Alberta trail along an abandoned historic rail line

45 kilometres complete on 109-km trail from Nordegg to Rocky Mountain House
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The historic Taunton Trestle bridge west will become the centrepiece of a 109-kilometre trail link from Nordegg to Rocky Mountain House in Alberta. Photo contributed

A trail on a former railway line linking Alberta’s Nordegg and Rocky Mountain House communities is expected to be complete within five years.

About 45 kilometres of trail has been built and the historic Taunton Trestle rail bridge outfitted with a new deck and seating so far in the first two phases of the project.

On Thursday, Alberta’s Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen said the government has committed $6 million over the next three to five years for design and construction work to complete the 109-kilometre trail, built on a section of the historic Canadian Northern Western Railway.

Phase 3 of the Rocky Mountain House to Nordegg Rail Trail will link Sunset Creek to the Chambers Creek Provincial Recreation Area, about 30 km west of Rocky Mountain House, and will include construction of a parking area near Taunton Trestle. Construction will begin in fall 2024 and be completed by late 2025.

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Phase 4 of the project will connect Chambers Creek Provincial Recreation Area to the Rocky Mountain House area with about 20 kilometres of trail, pending regulatory and land use approvals. Construction is tentatively scheduled to start in the fall of 2026.

When complete, the route will include rest stops, picnic sites and remote campsites. There will be multiple access points to the trail, including the Saunders and Harlech Provincial Recreation Areas and Nordegg Industrial Park.

As a multi-use trail, it will be accessible to hikers, mountain bikers and off-highway vehicles. In the winter season, the trail will be used for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and dogsledding.

Clearwater County Reeve Michelle Swanson called the Taunton Trestle “a symbol of our community’s rich history and a vital part of our multi-use trail system.

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“This collaboration between Clearwater County and the Province of Alberta reflects our commitment to preserving our heritage and ensuring safer access for all.”

Swanson said the project reflects the county’s efforts to celebrate the area’s historical coal roots, most visible at Brazeau Collieries Mine Sites in Nordegg.

In September, Clearwater County council voted to spend more than $1 million next year as part of an ongoing project to preserve the mine site as a major heritage attraction.

“I commend Clearwater County for their vision in developing the initial concept to transform an abandoned rail line into a remarkable outdoor corridor,” said Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen in a statement accompanying the province’s announcement of continuing work on the route.

“Continued improvements to the Rail Trail will help build regional tourism along this historic route and allow Albertans and visitors alike to experience our world-class trail system.”

The trail project has been decades in the making. In 2009, Clearwater County commissioned a concept plan for the route and has contributed $900,000 in matching funding from the province as well as providing land worth $150,000.

Taunton Trestle is bound to become a signature feature of the trail. The 220-metre riveted steel bridge was built in the 1930s to 1940s to replace a wooden bridge destroyed by fire.

The abandoned steel bridge became a popular spot for visitors.

The Rail Trail project is part of the Alberta government’s $33.7-million Crown Lands Trails and Tourism initiative.

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