Efforts are underway and will remain ongoing throughout the winter to set tracks on numerous Sundre trails that will cater to cross-country skiers as well as other recreational users such as walkers and even bikers.
Volunteer members of the Sundre Bike n Ski Club recently received approval from municipal officials to begin the work.
“Notice is given that the Town of Sundre has approved the grooming of cross country ski trails. The trails will be groomed for multi purpose (use) and open to the public,” reads the town's website.
While motorized off-road machines such as tracked off-highway vehicles and all-terrain quads are barred from travelling on the trails, residents are reminded that one exception has been made for club volunteers, who will be operating a snowmobile with track-setting equipment. So anyone who might notice such activity occurring should not be alarmed, said Ian James, the town's community services manager.
The agreement between the municipality and the club is the result of ongoing efforts to improve collaboration to find the best possible ways to serve the community, he said.
“This is where the partnership is quite exciting for us in community services, because as a volunteer group, they'll be assisting for (trail) maintenance in the winter.”
While the club's volunteers are out and about either maintaining or using the trails, they provide the town's staff with important information on issues such as fallen trees, he said.
“We're going to get a lot of eyes on the trails,” said James.
“It's nice to have them on board.”
The work to set the trails was largely just getting started last week when the Round Up spoke with the club's co-founder Paul Shippy.
“We're getting there,” he said.
“We did a lot of work last year with the town to set ourselves up to jump right into track setting this year.”
Although that groundwork laid most of the foundation so the club could do just that, the municipality desired an additional level of liability protection before giving final approval, he said.
“So we've been trying to get that established through Cross Country Ski Canada,” he said, adding that documentation was coming through.
Any time another layer of liability protection is added, there are more parties and paperwork involved, which does slow down the process. But once that's all in place, the club's members hope that future years will be “clear sailing” after a precedent and protocol has been established, he said.
That extra layer of legal protection is to make sure the Town of Sundre's interests are covered, said James, adding the insurance coverage will also protect the club's members, who will be responsible for safe operation of the snowmobile and the track setting equipment.
“We want to ensure that the volunteers who are using it are qualified to use it, and that they're properly given the right responsibility to use it.”
Town officials — including council and staff — are supportive of the club members' enthusiasm and energy in maintaining local trails, he said.
“It's a great idea,” he said, adding that aforementioned details simply needed to be dealt with.
The track setting equipment is designed specifically to set grooves for cross- country skiers while leaving flatly groomed a portion of the trail for walkers, he said.
“It does both at the same time — that makes it very attractive.”
The club's volunteers are helping not only themselves but also everyone else in the community who enjoys using the trails as well, he said.
“Residents can see the club is making the effort to make the trails accessible to everybody — not just cross-country skiers.”
The community services manager seemed satisfied that concerns previously raised about mixed use of the trails have been mitigated.
“The one thing I've asked is for an annual review of the program.”
With the issue of trails receiving heightened attention, he said officials plan to seek feedback from the community following the end of the season. The idea is to hear any potential concerns in an effort to continue improving the system to make sure recreational users all get to enjoy the trails, he said.
Another development has been ongoing work with the Alberta government to establish a trail on provincial land on the south side of Bearberry Creek within the confines of the weir enclosure. The province, the municipality and the club are working together to encourage and promote winter activities in the community, he said.
That's a partnership the club is excited about, said Shippy.
“Our intention was always to provide a cross-country skiing experience that is in addition to the walkability of the town,” he said, adding that all the groomed trails will feature ski tracks as well as a flattened walking path.
“We're opening up territory as much as possible.”
In turn, perhaps people will be more encouraged to venture out for walks on trails they might not otherwise use during the winter, he said.
But that doesn't happen overnight.
“It's quite a mission to get all of these things organized.”
While the club's members have previously felt as though its volunteers' efforts had been stifled by seemingly endless hoops to jump through, the point has been reached where “we have a common goal and we're communicating well” with municipal officials, he said.
“It's encouraging, though there are always challenges.”
Nevertheless, the club's members remain positive and intend to continue working with local officials to keep the lines of communication open.
“That's the heart and soul of what makes Sundre a vibrant community — people working together, even if they don't fully understand the activity, to make things happen.”
Check the town's website, www.sundre.com, to find a map highlighting the trails that will be track set.