The Kuhnen family always saw potential in a quarter section of land they owned around the south end of Lacombe Lake.
A paintball park was considered but dropped when an agreement couldn’t be reached with Lacombe County.
Next up, was a pet cemetery. But Kuhnen family patriarch Frank says the rest of his family weren’t enthusiastic about the idea.
Frank, 83, a retired welder and outfitter, also had the idea of creating a game park catering to hunters with physical disabilities. Alberta Fish and Wildlife was cool to this idea.
The last idea — and he thinks the best — was to turn the land over to Lacombe County to create a network of natural walking trails connecting to the nearby Trans Canada Trail that runs around the east side of Lacombe Lake, which is just north of Blackfalds.
The Kuhnen family donated 140 acres to the county with the proviso that it be kept in its natural state for public use and not be sold.
“It has to stay as it is,” said Frank, who emigrated to Canada with a brother from Germany in 1952 as a 19-year-old. “That way it benefits everybody.”
After moving out West, he met and married Rose in 1952. They settled in Central Alberta in 1954.
Frank was a young professional boxer when he was introduced to Lacombe by boxing promoter Jack Collett, who would much later donate 635 acres of his own land in the 1980s that became the J.J. Collett Natural Area just a few kilometres north.
Kuhnen said the construction of a stretch of Trans Canada Trail around Lacombe Lake convinced him to donate the land.
“We saw all the people use that trail. We decided we’ve got to do something.”
The Kuhnens, who have six children, 15 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren, also own about another 450 acres in the area, most of it farmland. They also operate the Tipi Village campground.
Dale Freitag, Lacombe County planning services manager, said trails will be developed in the new park as an ongoing project over the next few years. They will be left as natural trails, not paved, and can be reached from the nearby Trans Canada Trail.
Kuhnen Park was officially unveiled in a ceremony and community barbecue on Wednesday that drew about 100 people.
This is shaping up to be a good year in Central for trail building.
South of Red Deer, a long-sought trail link between Red Deer and Springbrook has taken a major stride forward.
And Nova Chemicals is building trails on an unfarmed natural area just north of the plant complex.
Central Alberta Regional Trails Society president Paul Pettypiece is understandably pleased to see so much progress on the trail blazing front.
Anyone who has lobbied, organized and rallied for new trails has come to expect a few bumpy patches on the way.
The Springbrook-to-Penhold route is a case in point. A 3.6-km trail was proposed and Red Deer County set aside nearly $760,000 in its budget only to run into a dead end in 2011.
A disagreement between Penhold and the county on the most feasible route sidelined the project indefinitely at the time.
The project was given a boost recently with the completion of a trail study that provides four potential routes. Pettypiece said county council got its first look at the results at a recent workshop and it is expected to come to a council meeting for a decision sometime next month.
Getting the link moving forward would not only provide a much-wanted local link, it will provide a necessary component to extend the network farther to Penhold and, in time, beyond.
“In order to get that south leg moving, you have to have the connection.”
The timing is right for more trail expansion. Trans Canada Trail is looking to complete as much of a nation-spanning route as possible by 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
To speed things up, funding is available now that may not be there later.
Optimism among trail builders has also been buoyed by Alberta Transportation’s willingness to use its rights-of-way along highways as possible trail routes — reversing long-held opposition.
Pettypiece said trails offer relatively inexpensive — when compared with recreational multiplexes — healthy living options.
“I think people want trails more and more. They see the health benefit of it.”
Out by Joffre, Nova Chemicals and its contractors have joined forces to create looped trails.
On Wednesday, Nova and one of its contractors, Ledcor, held a tree-planting event at the site of what will be five km of looped trails on 220 acres of natural wetlands around Jones Creek, just north of the plant site.
The Community Nature Trail is expected to be ready by the fall, as long as the weather co-operates, says Nova spokesperson Roxann Good. More than 9,000 trees will be planted along the trails, both to beautify the site and to follow through on a company commitment of “zero-net tree loss on our expansion projects.”
Nova announced the trail project at the same as a $1-billion polyethylene expansion was unveiled in 2013. Stormwater work done as part of a nearby plant railyard expansion will tie into the wetlands area.