National trail proposed for Elk Valley

The Elk Valley has been proposed as a location for the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) — a 24,000 kilometre endeavour — to travel through.

The Elk Valley has been proposed as a location for the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) — a 24,000 kilometre endeavour — to travel through.

The Trans Canada Trail is a network of trails that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific and on to the Arctic oceans. Representatives from TCT approached Sparwood council at the May 4 meeting about the Elk Valley being added to the 1,000 communities already mapped by the trail.

“We want people who are into long-distance cycling trips to be able to come from Alberta and go into British Columbia. When they come from Alberta and into B.C. the first thing they’ll see is the Elk Valley. So you have the opportunity to be the first section of B.C. as they’re moving west on the Trans Canada Trail,” said Sarah Meunier, Kootenay trail coordinator for TCT.

Meunier added that although there is only a handful of people who will utilize the full extent of the trail, the biggest advantage to it is its ability to connect communities.

“It’s a trail used by local people and it can be a huge economic driver as well once you get tourism coming in for people using the trail,” she said.

The trail is expected to be completed by 2017 and is currently being pushed by TCT to Elk Valley communities before funding runs out in two years time.

As a prominent trails group in the Elk Valley, the Fernie Trails Alliance (FTA) has stepped up to help spearhead the project alongside TCT.

Currently, $450,000 has been allocated from the Elk Valley Community Directed Funds to create a community trail that connects Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford. TCT has proposed matching those funds and any additional in-kind donations to the project.

“I’d say the time is now to move forward with building these trails,” said FTA President Terry Nelson.

“This is an opportunity to create a valley-wide trail connecting Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford that can provide a lot of benefits,” added Director of Community & Facility Services Duane Lawrence. “The funds that are available are only available for the next two years. The likelihood of being able to do something like this in the future will be very challenging without this type of revenue. I believe it’s a really good opportunity for Sparwood if council decides to pursue it.”

Sparwood Mayor Cal McDougall brought up concerns regarding the maintenance of the trails and whether that would be the responsibility of the district, the FTA or TCT.

“We’ve found that there is a strong commitment from trails users to trail maintenance,” responded Nelson. “They essentially become self-maintained trails and the people who use those trails take it upon themselves to take care of them.”

McDougall also brought up other concerns including the actual route of the trail, particularly from Sparwood to Elkford.

“How much expertise would your group be able to lend us in terms of locating a proper route? Because I see Sparwood to Elkford as a real challenge as there’s so much private land between us,” said McDougall.

“Using some of the mapping the Trans Canada Trail group has done we’ve done a lot of work to locate landowners and find out what the permissions those owners have,” said Nelson who added that TCT has received permission from Jemi Fibre to utilize parts of their property that begin at Fording River Road and on to Line Creek.

He added, “A trail could be constructed parallel to that and a corridor from Wilson Creek to the Lower Elk Valley Road has also been identified.”

Other council members brought up land governed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) as a roadblock to the trail being built.

“The NCC is considering support as long as we follow certain conditions like no commercial events and they reserve the right to have seasonal closures,” responded Meunier.

The exact location of the route is still being determined by the TCT.

“We’re going to fund a trail you guys want to see,” said Meunier. “We’re working with groups and the districts to identify a route that you guys want. There have been many feasibility studies done and we always have a preferred route and some alternative routes and we just go wherever is easiest.”