Province reverses opposition to trails near highways

Those who have doggedly sought to link Central Alberta communities with trails have a new spring in their step.

Those who have doggedly sought to link Central Alberta communities with trails have a new spring in their step.

The Central Alberta Regional Trails Society has been getting some good news lately. Last month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the government would commit $1 for every $2 raised through public contributions to the Trans Canada Trail Foundation, which wants to create an unbroken 24,000-km national chain of trails by 2017.

In Alberta, a significant obstacle to trail building was removed when Alberta Transportation reversed its opposition to locating trails near provincial highways, which had long hindered route selections.

“It’s a 180-degree turnaround, so we’re ecstatic,” said Paul Pettypiece, trails society vice-president.

“It gives us a lot more options. Especially from Penhold to Bowden, it opens up possibilities that weren’t there before.”

Alberta Transportation has even asked to join the trails society.

Pettypiece believes the province changed its stance because it realized if trails weren’t allowed along obvious routes, people would use busy roads and their shoulders anyway, creating a bigger danger than allowing a nearby trail.

On Tuesday, the trails society won another small victory when Red Deer County council agreed to a request to forward an application on its behalf for $35,000 in funding to hire a consultant to study potential routes.

A link from Springbrook to Red Deer is project No. 1, and the consultant will also look into whether the historic Mintlaw railway bridge south of Red Deer could be incorporated into a trail. It would prove a spectacular attraction for trail users.

Council also agreed to send county representatives to sit in on meetings with area municipalities to discuss Red Deer-to-Sylvan Lake, Springbrook-to-Penhold and Penhold-to-Bowden links.

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