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A case for park trailminders

Juniper Trail, Kootenay National Park

Shortcutting between switchbacks has created severe erosion along Kootenay National Park’s Juniper Trail. Just one of many trail problems that might be mitigated by volunteer trail crews in Canadian Rockies national park. Rhonda Allen photo.

The recent citation issued to a civilian trailminder in Kootenay Park has brought national attention to a question I’ve been asking for quite sometime. Why is it that provincial parks, lands & forest agencies, and municipalities can work with volunteer groups to maintain recreational trails and facilities, but Parks Canada cannot… or won’t?

While Radium’s David Pacey was operating without Parks Canada authorization (Retiree ticketed for clearing trails in Kootenay National Park, CBC, Aug 23, 2016), I understand his frustration at watching the steady deterioration of trails within Sinclair Canyon and other areas of the park.

Dr. James Thorsell just returned from a 54-km backpack along Kootenay National Park’s Rockwall Trail, arguably one of the highest profile wilderness trails in the mountain parks. In fact, it was Thorsell’s Provisional Trail Guide and Map for the Proposed Great Divide Trail that first highlighted this exceptional multi-day route. His assessment after this summer’s revisit—at least 50% of the trail is suffering from serious deterioration and erosion.

Parks Canada trail crews are a mere shadow of what they once were. At best, the remaining “lightweight” units can only remove deadfall in the spring and early summer. If volunteers were allowed to tend some of the shorter and more popular trails, it would free up Parks Canada crews to concentrate on more remote tracks.


Jasper Trail Alliance

A good example of what’s possible is the Jasper Trail Alliance, which works under the auspices of the Friends of Jasper National Park. The Alliance’s volunteer crews coordinate with Jasper Park staff to upgrade and maintain trails, particularly within the very dense network of trails surrounding Jasper townsite. But this is the only accredited volunteer group that I’m aware of in the mountain parks.

The Friends of Kootenay National Park, with Parks Canada’s blessing, could form a similar group to assist with trails in Sinclair Canyon and other accessible areas of the park. And I don’t think it would be difficult to find volunteer trailminders in Canmore, Banff and Golden who would be eager to help out in Banff and Yoho National Parks as well.

Parks Canada administrators need to sit down and seriously address the reasons why they have lagged behind other management units in Canada and the U.S. The people who use and love the parks are an invaluable resource that shouldn’t be ignored.


  1. Al Bjorn

    The problem is useless, self serving managers from a urban environment who have no concept about trail maintenance and contruction in the Park backcountry.
    Ever since the upper Parks Canada managers destroyed the Warden Service, back country trails and infrastructure has greatly deteriorated.

  2. DM Herman

    Better that “Wardens” focus on the noticeable increase in road side camping at prohibited locations throughout the parks, instead of badgering easy targets with such a pedantic philosophy. In my opinion this but a symptom of having become too specialized and narrowly focussed on the part of Wardens, along with Parks Canada managers / CEO’s / and Superintendents. Their adherence to marketing cult philosophy has been sadly miss-guided into squandering good loot on pavement and front country extravaganzas to attract one crowd to the detriment of others. Also, I believe that the relatively recent split of management responsibility for law enforcement, versus resource management, has led to a state of affairs where “rules” are more important than ‘values” for some. I can see where new trails being constructed by rogue trail builders can be a problem but really, like many others who have cut a lot of trees so that pack boxes did not squeeze horse ribs, what this gentleman did is really nothing of consequence.

  3. Ron Warner

    You have made several excellent points. Banff National Park was once active with Backcountry trail crews, mostly supplies by pack horses along with some helicopter assistance. Most of the trail work has been forgotten. Volunteer work has been seen as taking jobs away from Union members, (trail work and repairs on backcountry facilities like Warden cabins and fences, for example), however at this time they would not be competing with any Park crews. There appears to be lots of federal money available for upgrading Park infrastructure, such as the return of the Buffalo, and new Highway fencing. Perhaps with the various new rules about formal chain saw training, horsemanship and on the job supervision, Parks may think volunteer helpers may be a nuisance rather than helpful. I would love to hear about the response received from your comments. Thank you for starting the dialogue about the issue.

  4. Yvonne christensen

    As a former trail crew worker I recall one of the management difficulties for an efficient back country crew was getting staff who were interested in staying in the back country! In my last year we constantly had to cycle employees between the front country and back country crews because of baseball and soccer games
    Living and working in the back country was considered a hassle. There is no reason friends of kootenay could not have a volunteer trail crew. That was one of the mandates of its creation. budgets reductionscut back country trail crews out of existence. Kootenay had one of the most efficient crews in the parks network in its day with a tiny budget compared to banff yoho or jasper

    • Brian

      I hope to provide more background on the Jasper Trail Alliance sometime soon. Meanwhile, you can get more info about the group’s activities by checking out https://friendsofjasper.com/ca/projects/ and the Jasper Trail Alliance Facebook site.

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