Celebrating Alberta's trailblazers

Alberta TrailNet Society is Alberta's provincial trail council, a non-profit charitable organization supporting the ongoing development of Alberta's provincial trail network, including implementing the Trans Canada Trail. Alberta TrailNet works with provincial trail user associations, municipalities, stakeholders and the Government of Alberta to support trail projects throughout the province.

A number of volunteer trail opportunities are available, including construction, stewardship, writing newsletters and working tradeshows. To volunteer with your local trail organization, contact Alberta TrailNet at atnadmin@telus.net.

Each year, thousands of volunteers dedicate the time and energy to creating a trail network in our province. Here's just a few we'd like to say thank-you to.

Rob Woito
Rob Woito When Rob Woito first walked in to volunteer with the Athabasca Recreational Trails Association in 2007, he wanted to get involved fixing fences and putting up trail signs. He had no idea he would leave the meeting as the group's president. Some people are meant to be leaders.

Rob Woito feels like an Alberta-boy who had the misfortune of being born in Ontario. Years ago, the community of Marathon, Ontario was interested in having a trail to connect their community to the nearby Pukaskwa National Park. Over eight weeks, Rob and a friend build 27 kilometres of trail to make that community dream a reality. So when Rob moved to Athabasca, he was eager to get involved in a new community's dream of trail building.

With Rob's new ideas and fresh blood, much has changed since he first became president, though Rob is quick to point out the group's success is due to the many people involved. "We've been really lucky for the support of Alberta TrailNet, local municipalities and the Government of Alberta," says Rob. "We are grateful to the volunteers and the Western Canadian Wagon Train for all of their hard work."

Rob is heavily involved in the planning and coordinating of upcoming trail projects. "For every hour on the ground, there's 10 hours spent planning behind the scenes," says Rob. As a volunteer, Rob is involved in trail planning, presenting to municipalities, writing grant proposals and getting in the dirt with a shovel.

One of his proudest moments was May 14, 2010, the day the Redwater Bridge was completed. The bridge is a channel for recreational trail users travelling the Athabasca Landing Trail between Fort Saskatchewan and Athabasca. The Athabasca Landing Trail was an important transportation route in the late 1800s, bringing fur traders, gold miners and settlers to northern Alberta. The Redwater Bridge replicates the original wooden bridge built in 1905. "From start to finish it took about a month and we were on budget," says Rob, his voice filled with joy. "This represents what the Athabasca Landing Trail was all about - and the impressive timber bridge looks 100 years old."

Rob Woito Although an avid canoer, Rob's main reason for getting involved was for the community. "I love Alberta," says Rob. "If you want to work, you can find it. If you have a dream, you can find support." Rob's love of Alberta, adventure and the outdoors is contagious. His two daughters have moved to the area and he's excited about helping the community he now calls home. "It's great to meet new people on the trail. They really appreciate the work being done to make these recreational experiences possible," says Rob.

Rob admits there are hurdles to be overcome in building trails. "There can be a negative stigma attached with trails," says Rob. "There is a disconnect between recreationalists and landowners. Building trails gives quaders a place to go." While trail building can be a frustrating thing, Rob is incredibly optimistic for the future. "It's really rewarding when you complete a project and see the people who are using the trails," says Rob. "You might need a thick skin, but perseverance and patience will lead to great results."

To learn more about the Athabasca Recreation Trails Association and to get involved, visit athabascalandingtrail.com or check out their Facebook page.

Christine Nelson
Christine Nelson joined Alberta TrailNet's Board of Directors in June 2012, when she moved to Edmonton. Prior to that, Christine gained a lot of trail knowledge being involved with the Athabasca Landing Trail.

Christine Nelson Christine was intrigued in the development of the Trans Canada Trail. "I was always really interested in the strong heritage of the Athabasca region,"says Christine. The Athabasca Landing Trail excited Christine, with its history as a main route for settlers, fur traders and aboriginal people. Christine's love of her community's heritage brought her to expand her trails interests to a larger scope.

"When I moved to Edmonton, there was an opportunity to become involved in the provincial board," says Christine. "It's amazing how many trail groups exist throughout our province. There are a lot of people involved in organizing, fundraising and doing the hard, physical work to build trails. It's a wonderful example of community, within our own towns and as an entire province."

Christine took Community Development training through Alberta Culture and became very interested in board development regarding the Societies Act. As a board member with Alberta TrailNet, Christine focuses on accountability and fairness for the province's trails. "We make sure that funds from the Federal Trans Canada Trail, the Government of Alberta, fundraising and other grants are coordinated and distributed to trail groups in our province," says Christine. "We're available to provide information to local trails groups. We can also help those interested in starting a trail group."

While Christine values fairness above all as a TrailNet board member, she keeps the Athabasca Landing Trail in a special place in her heart. "It's such a great example of the community, private industry and municipalities working together," says Christine.

The strong history of the region can still be felt to this day. "In 1904, when flooding threatened a Hudson's Bay Company shipment, Billy Loutit ran from Athabasca to Edmonton in search of help. He traveled along the Athabasca Landing Trail. A few years ago, his great-granddaughter, Shannon Loutitt, retraced the path her ancestor once took," says Christine. "It's hard to think that a hundred years ago, traveling from Athabasca to Edmonton was a two or three day trip. The trail would change and you might have to go from one side of the creek to the other. There was issues of drifting... following a wavering line through muskeg. A horse and wagon would get stuck and people had to push on. It's exciting to be on the trail and think of those who traveled in the same place a century ago."

Christine feels a strong sense of accomplishment and well-being from volunteering. "I like the idea that we're entrusted with community resources and we ensure it's distributed fairly to better communities across our province," says Christine. "It's not just about money. We have a responsibility to better the lives of Albertans."

For Christine, the best part of being involved in TrailNet is witnessing the work being accomplished. "I love going to see the sections of trails that have been improved and the new bridges and signage," says Christine. "There are a lot of volunteers and municipalities working to create our provincial trail system. We all come together for a common goal and there's nothing like the feeling of knowing you"re making a difference."

The trail system in our province benefits Albertans in a variety of ways. "You don't need to be an athlete to get out and use a trail," says Christine. "There are lots of health benefits to recreation. With trails running through cities, rural areas, parklands, rivers... it's open to everyone. Year-round, you can hit the trail with your family."

Not-for-profit groups are always looking for help, though finding volunteers can be difficult. "Everyone has other commitments and they get busy with work. Hopefully, if people are retiring, they'll think of volunteering with trails," says Christine. "You don't need to be in great physical shape. There's room for everyone who is interested." Christine says if you want to get involved, there are lots of opportunities. "You can contact your local trail group or your municipality to find out what's happening with trails your area," notes Christine. "There's also sports groups and snowmobile groups you can contact too."

To learn more about Alberta TrailNet, visit albertatrailnet.com.

Debbie Olsen
image of Debbie OlsenDebbie Olsen has been involved with the Central Alberta Regional Trails Society for over a decade. Working with trail development groups, the Central Alberta Regional Trails Society (known as CARTS) is a volunteer-run organization that provides trail information and support to Central Alberta. Debbie has been serving as the association's President for the past five years.

Getting involved in trails was a natural fit for Debbie, as she was already a trail user. "I've always enjoyed exercising and going for walks with my family. It's something anyone can do... and there isn't a monthly fee like a gym membership," says Debbie.

The Central Alberta Regional Trails Society coordinates trail development in Central Alberta. It is made up of many volunteers, trail groups and municipalities, including: Red Deer, Lacombe, Bowden, Springbook, Red Deer County, Olds, Lacombe County, Innisfail, Ponoka, Blackfalds, Bentley, Penhold, Alix and Ponoka County. "It's a great example of urban and rural municipalities working together and talking about trails. A new section of trails is opening June 15 that will connect Blackfalds to Lacombe," says Debbie. "It's great for people in the area to have another recreation site to spend time with their family. It's also important to have a form of green transportation from one community to another."

As President of CARTS, Debbie coordinates bringing together the committee, meets with sub-committees and addresses concerns of municipalities. She's also involved in writing the interpretive signage for the trails. "I'm really excited to be part of CARTS. I've always been interested in trails and green spaces," says Debbie. "CARTS has had years of success before I was involved. That was thanks to the many volunteers, creating awareness by going door-to-door in Red Deer County."

Bringing Central Alberta's municipalities together also provides an opportunity to learn from each other's experiences. "The Town of Sylvan Lake was using a new trail surface," says Debbie. "Through CARTS, we were able to share information and see if other areas would benefit from this surfacing technique."

Phil Lodermeier is Lacombe County's Manager of Operations and is heavily involved with CARTS. "The trail system is something that's really important to our residents," Phil says. "It's fun being involved in planning trails, putting in washrooms, picnic tables... benches. There's a lot of budgeting and planning involved, but it's worth it. When we built the boardwalk on the lake... the view is spectacular. Every picture of the area is amazing."

Collaboration and partnership are keys to successfully completing trails in Central Alberta. "We were working on a trail from Blackfalds to Red Deer and we needed to build a bridge," says Phil. "We brought in the military engineers to construct the Blindman River Pedestrian Bridge. We had Boy Scout troops and school groups come out to see this. It was a great opportunity for the community to learn how trails are created," adds Debbie.

Central Alberta is blessed with wide views, rolling hills and stunning sunsets. "Using the trails is a great way to enjoy the natural beauty of Alberta," says Debbie. "It's satisfying knowing that when you're walking on a trail - that you were a part of it. I'll be riding my bike on the trails and someone will say, 'Hey, did you know you can ride all the way to Red Deer?' And I'm thinking, 'Yeah, I was involved in this!'"

Phil notes that there are obstacles involved in building trails. "It is a long process to negotiate the land purchases. It's easy for people to understand hard services like building roads when you're talking about infrastructure," says Phil. "So you have to keep your goal in mind because it's worth it in the end. The trails will provide enjoyment for years to come."

For her amazing contribution to trails in Central Alberta, Debbie received the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal. Across the country, community leaders have received this award in recognition of their outstanding service and citizenship. The new commemorative medal was created to mark the 60th anniversary of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's accession to the Throne as Queen of Canada.

Debbie is excited to continue working with CARTS to create a trail network across Central Alberta, though she has a larger goal in mind. "It's such a beautiful area, biking near Lacombe Lake. The trails we're building will definitely be a tourism asset," says Debbie. "It's great to know it's going to be there for a long time and my kids will get to use it. I would love to see the entire province connected by trails."

For more information about the Central Alberta Regional Trails Society and to get involved, visit centralalbertatrails.org.


Last reviewed/revised: May 3, 2013