Protecting and preserving Alberta’s outdoors

L-R: Garett Schmidt, Chris Brookes, Linda Strong-Watson, and Minister Nixon.

Trails played an important role in Alberta’s history and identity as early transport and trading routes. Today, these pathways offer Albertans and visitors the opportunity to experience the routes of the past while enjoying the province’s spectacular natural beauty.

If passed, the Trails Act will modernize the trails framework and will allow for more trails and adjacent areas to be conserved and enjoyed by Albertans. These updated tools to manage trails and protect our public land will help the government respond to a recent surge in trail use.

“Alberta’s government is absolutely committed to protecting and preserving our public spaces for all Albertans. Trails are such an important part of Alberta’s history and identity, helping us lead healthy lives and providing huge economic benefits through travel and tourism, and they are more popular than ever before. We are fulfilling our platform commitment for a Trails Act that helps advance our conservation agenda and supports quality outdoor recreation for generations to come.”

Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks

Alberta has 13,000 kilometres of designated and managed trails and hundreds of thousands of kilometres of unintended trails. Alberta’s current legislation for trails on public land has not been updated since 1979 and trail use has changed significantly since then. For example, motorized equipment such as off-highway vehicles (OHVs) are used more often than ever, which can put a heavy strain on Alberta’s trails. If passed, this legislation will provide clearer direction on when and where OHVs can be used.

Alberta currently has trails that vary in quality and how they are managed. This can cause environmental and public safety concerns such as poor water crossings that are harmful to fish and too many recreation activities on the same trail.

Indigenous Peoples have an important historical and cultural connection to the land and its rich natural heritage. Alberta respects and supports the continued availability of Crown lands for the purpose of exercising First Nations’ treaty rights, Métis harvesting and First Nations and Métis traditional uses. This legislation can help locate and manage trails in a sustainable way that is sensitive and responsive to nearby communities and the ways in which they use the land.

“The Alberta Snowmobile Association (ASA) is pleased and excited to see the introduction of the Trails Act, which will see the establishment of ‘Provincial Trails’, protecting the hard work, labour and investments of Alberta’s volunteer trail community. We share the vision with Minister Nixon in recognizing the value and benefits of a provincial snowmobile trail network. Since 1971 our volunteers have built and maintained, at their own cost, a trail network of around 6,500 kilometres for the benefit of all Albertans. Time and time again we have seen the destruction and loss of trails to industrial encroachment and to damage from wrong uses of the trails. This new status as a ‘Provincial Trail’ will see the snowmobile trail network protected and will allow it to grow to become a world-class recreational and tourism product for Alberta.”

Chris Brookes, executive director, Alberta Snowmobile Association

Volunteers and partners play an important role in maintaining Alberta’s recreation trails on public land. The Trails Act would strengthen trail partnerships with volunteer organizations to help maintain and improve Alberta’s trail system.

“The Alberta Hiking Association supports the introduction of a Trails Act to help develop a system of high-quality, sustainable trail opportunities for Albertans. This act needs to guide and encourage the development of strong and lasting partnerships between trail groups and the Alberta government. It should ensure good planning and design as well as the provision of good user information, education and enforcement.”

Don Cockerton, chair, Alberta Hiking Association

“It’s very encouraging to see implementation of the Trails Act, recognizing and supporting how valued trails and trail based recreation is to Albertans. This legislation provides the foundation for developing supportive polices and processes that can work to preserve both our trails, and the environment - for present and future generations to enjoy. It’s a welcomed step, in supporting meaningful and sustainable trail systems for our province. We look forward to working in partnership, and support for our many clubs and volunteers on the landscape who work tirelessly to maintain trails, install bridges, repair and mitigate issues – for all Albertans to responsibly enjoy.”

Garett Schmidt, president, Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association

“Alberta TrailNet and its provincial trail partner organizations and volunteers have been working with the Government of Alberta and other stakeholders for many years to develop provincial trail legislation. We appreciate the support our government has provided, and look forward to continuing this partnership towards improved recreational and tourism opportunities and sustainable trails”

Linda Strong-Watson, executive director, Alberta TrailNet Society

The Trails Act, a government platform commitment, will:

  • establish the cornerstones for a sustainable trail management system on public land
  • enable trails to be safe and, as needed, designated for specific uses such as hiking or riding an OHV
  • enable improved trail planning, which will consider other land uses and values
  • strengthen protection of trails so that Albertans can enjoy them for years to come
  • strengthen enforcement tools to prevent environmental damage and promote environmental stewardship of public land
  • promote a bigger role for partners in building  and maintaining trails

Quick facts

  • Trails are an important part of Alberta’s history and identity as early transport and trading routes. Many of which are still used today, like the Iron Horse Trail, a historic trading route that is 300 kilometres long and connects 14 communities from Edmonton to Cold Lake.
  • Over the past few decades, demand and intensity of trail use has increased as motorized equipment has become more popular. 
  • A key priority of the Alberta Crown Land Vision is to support sustainable funding and partnerships for recreation, including conservation of Crown land and biodiversity and the sustainable use of trails and backcountry land.
  • The total amount of unintended trails in Alberta far outnumbers the managed trail system.
  • Alberta has 13,000 kilometres of designated and managed trails and hundreds of thousands of kilometres of unintended trails due to industrial use.
  • Decades of industrial activity in Alberta has resulted in a network of recreation trails that were not planned or intended for ongoing use. These trails are often on sensitive soils, such as wet areas, and do not have bridges or other appropriate water course crossings to protect critical aquatic habitats.  
  • If passed, the Trails Act will come into force upon proclamation, except the requirement for a Trail Management Plan, which will come into force next spring.