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Friends of Kananaskis Country celebrates 25 years of education, partnerships and trail care

“The way we stay relevant, helpful and meaningful is to evolve but the key thread throughout the existence of Friends of Kananaskis is our trail stewardship and our trail care program. That continues to be our strength in how we engage the community. There’s a real community engagement in that program where people can give back to the trails they love.”

KANANASKIS COUNTRY – The traditional gift for a 25th anniversary is silver, but for Friends of Kananaskis they’ll be happy  to see people continuing to use the popular trail system throughout Kananaskis Country.

The organization marked their quarter century anniversary in July as they continue to focus on maintaining the ecological integrity and recreational use of Kananaskis Country by education, partnership and trail care.

Nancy Ouimet, the executive director of the group, said they’ve evolved in the more than two decades of existence but their core mandate remains the same.

“The way we stay relevant, helpful and meaningful is to evolve but the key thread throughout the existence of Friends of Kananaskis is our trail stewardship and our trail care program,” she said. “That continues to be our strength in how we engage the community. There’s a real community engagement in that program where people can give back to the trails they love.”

In 2020, the organization had more than 3,000 volunteer hours over 95 days to maintain and build new trails.

Ouimet said the trail care program has been a constant for the organization as well as educating people on the importance of the lands and their partnerships with many likeminded groups.

They have strong relationships with the Canmore Area Mountain Bike Association, Canmore Trail Culture, Climbers Access Society of Alberta and the Bow Valley Riding Association, who form the Canmore Trail Alliance. The alliance had an additional 1,476 volunteer hours in planning, designing, constructing and maintaining trails in the Canmore area last years.

The Friends also partnered with Bragg Creek Trails and the Great Divide Trail Association through the Kananaskis Trail Builders Coalition.

Ouimet noted a key has also been working with municipalities such as the Town of Canmore and the MD of Bighorn and multiple provincial agencies like Alberta Environment and Parks.

“We've kind of joked that the real success is that we've made it 25 years,” Ouimet said with a laugh. “Throughout the 25 years, Friends of Kananaskis Country has been a key partner or valued partner with assisting Alberta Parks in helping implement some of their trail program or supporting their trail programs and that continues to be a really valued and key partner from our end as well."

The trail care group began in 1992 following government cutbacks as a way to give back to the trail system and Friends of Kananaskis was incorporated as a cooperating association in July 1996.

They were originally formed to promote the protection, visitor enjoyment and heritage appreciation of Kananaskis Country.

This summer they meet every Thursday evening to do maintenance on the Montane Traverse trail and are constructing a new 4.5 kilometre Iliad trail at the Canmore Nordic Centre. They’ll also begin off season brushing of cross country ski trails later this month.

“We really focus on ensuring the programs are accessible to all various kind of users of Kananaskis Country. … It's been a big focus that our trail program has a high standard of health and safety,” Ouimet said.

“When it comes to engaging volunteers and ensuring they have a rewarding and fulfilling experience and that we are making a difference, so we definitely strive to identify opportunities within Kananaskis Country where we can help both improve, maintain and sustain access of trails and be in a position to benefit the area, especially as its use continues to increase.”

Last year saw record visitation to the region with an estimated 5.39 million visitors, a significant increase over the 2019 numbers of about 4.1 million people.

The province introduced a $90 user fee this year for Kananaskis Country. The provincial government has stated the money collected from the fee will stay in Kananaskis Country to help facilitate necessary repairs and maintenance for the popular trails.

“The Friends have long been a trusted and invaluable partner in the stewardship of Kananaskis Country and it's through this dedicated collaboration with Alberta Parks that the partnership has become the model for others to emulate,”said Michael Roycroft, the regional director of Kananaskis Region for the province, on the organization’s 25th anniversary newsletter. “We look forward to continuing this partnership for years to come.”

The group kept the anniversary relatively low-key, with a sticker designed to highlight Ha Ling Peak that overlooks Canmore and is available at information centres. Instead, the focus is on its core mandate.

“The do's and don'ts within the area is really something that we put emphasis on,” Ouimet said. “We try to educate the public and we take pride in helping represent Kananaskis Country and the opportunities to engage users in giving back and seeing how their efforts and their dedication improves the area and keeps it great.”