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Historic trail minders legacy lives on through tool donation

For 15 years, Doug Campbell hauled his trusty Pulaski up and down Mount Lady Macdonald, building switchbacks and pushing rocks off what has become a Canmore signature trail. Now, he’s ready to pass on his tools to the next generation.
Friends of Kananaskis executive director Nancy Ouimet shows off the Canmore Trail Alliance tool cache. Canmore Trail Minders donated their old equipment to the Canmore Trail
Friends of Kananaskis executive director Nancy Ouimet shows off the Canmore Trail Alliance tool cache. Canmore Trail Minders donated their old equipment to the Canmore Trail Alliance.

For 15 years, Doug Campbell hauled his trusty Pulaski up and down Mount Lady Macdonald, building switchbacks and pushing rocks off what has become a Canmore signature trail.

Now, he’s ready to pass on his tools to the next generation.

Between 1992 and 2007, Canmore Trail Minders, a group of tough as nails seniors led by Campbell and Brian Carter, did more to establish popular hiking routes in the Bow Valley than anyone this side of Lawrence Grassi.

Meeting one day a week, they carved the switchback trails up Ha Ling, East End of Rundle and Mount Lady Macdonald, among others, transforming animal paths and scree slopes into manageable hikes – what are now essential landmarks in the Bow Valley.

“It required redesigning them into switchback form to make them more accessible to the public. That was the basic aim,” Campbell said.

Entirely volunteer-based, the trail minders didn’t have permission to create the trails, but a desire to save the mountains from excessive trail braiding, and general disarray on local peaks, kept them working in the mountains. Crews of five or six would work long hours to build and maintain trail, and they occasionally had their equipment stolen or moved without notice.

“We would start at 10 a.m., depending on the weather, which determined where we went,” Campbell said. “We used the Pulaskis because they were lightweight, which enabled easy climbing. It was developed as a firefighting tool in the United States. It consists of a straight axe with a cross plate.”

Before the local trails were built, summits were only possible by those who braved the scree and steep cliff bands. The Trail Minders believed they should be accessible to more hikers, arguing a trail would save more of the mountain from damage.

“On Ha Ling, that required a lot of time from Brian Carter. On the side of the mountain, there were lots of slabs of rock that were precarious for crossing and had to be avoided. I took care of Mount Lady Macdonald. It didn’t require much because it followed the crest of the mountain until an hour up the trail, then it required a huge switchback to avoid a very rugged ridge.”

The Trail Minders consisted of 20 members at one point, before they ran out of steam. However, a generous donation means their legacy will now continue on.

The Trail Minders donated all of their trail building tools – 12 Pulaskis, two shovels and a rake – to Friends of Kananaskis, who in turn turned them over to the Canmore Trail Alliance. The tools will become part of a cache for all trail building groups in the Bow Valley.

“We need a new generation to come in,” Campbell said.

Nancy Ouimet, executive director of Friends of Kananaskis, said the tools will become part of a cache.

“We’re quite grateful we got such a large number of Pulaskis, because it’s a great first start to use towards our volunteer efforts in the Canmore area,” Ouimet said.

The tools are still in great shape, Ouimet said, as they’ve lived at the Canmore Senior’s Centre for the past 25 years. But it’s the symbolic power of the tools that has the group excited.

“This is the continuation of these tools building a legacy. These tools were the initiation of Ha Ling, Lady Mac and East End of Rundle trails. There is an iconic background to what these tools have established. It’s a continuation of the legacy of trail enthusiasts who want the trails to continue to be something for everyone to enjoy.”

Under the umbrella of Canmore Trail Culture, the tools will be used for various trail maintenance days around Canmore. It decreases reliance upon Canmore Nordic Centre tools, which are often lent out to trail groups. Now, there is a veritable library of trail building tools available for lend.

“Instead of different user groups having to buy their own tools, they can work with the Canmore Trail Alliance to try and work at building something out,” Ouimet said.

The trail alliance is also purchasing wheelbarrows, trimmers, rogue hoes, and other trail tools to help with the effort. No mechanized tools will be used. Several groups and companies, ranging from Canmore Cycling Culture, Canmore Mountain Bike Alliance (CAMBA) and McElhanney, have donated to Canmore Trail Alliance. Those interested in donating can visit www.canmoretrailalliance.com.


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