The culture of trail stewardship starts within our community. If you like recreating on trails, chances are you’ll really enjoy building and maintaining them too. Trail work is a little bit engineering; a little bit craft, ecology, user psychology, and a whole lot of labor, hopefully, labor of love. When in doubt, cut it out. Think Like Water!


  1. Kananaskis Country History
  2. Where Do Trails Come From, And How Are They Managed
  3. Trail Day – What to expect
  4. Trail Day – What to bring
  5. Health and Safety
  6. Right Tool For The Right Job
  7. Tool Safety (demonstration)
  8. Trail Terminology
  9. Trail Corridor
  10. Trail Construction
  11. Trail Maintenance
  12. Trail Reclamation

1. Kananaskis Country History 

Natural History 

  • The jagged peaks and u-shaped valleys in Kananaskis Country are 12,000 year-old reminders of the last ice age. They were revealed as kilometre-thick, million-year old glaciers melted to mere remnants.
  • The actual mountains were formed over the course of 200 million years. Tectonic plates forced layers of rock to pile, break, and fold into mountains. The mountains which resulted from this pressure were originally much taller than today’s post-glacier peaks.
  • The rock itself is mainly limestone made from layers of fossilized sea creatures. These creatures lived hundreds of millions of years ago in the inland sea that covered southern Alberta. Evidence of this is seen in ancient coral reefs, oyster beds and shark teeth in Kananaskis Country.

Cultural History 

Archaeological evidence of humans in Kananaskis Country goes back over 8000 years. The Stoney-Nakoda, Siksika, Blood, and Kootenai First Nations all have deep connection to this land.

Captain John Palliser chose the name Kananaskis 150 years ago on his expedition through the area.

The name comes from the Cree “Kin-e-a-kis” – the name of a warrior who survived an axe blow to the head.

Kananaskis Country – An Experiment that Worked

  • As early as 1902, parts of Kananaskis Country were included in the Rocky Mountain National Park (now Banff National Park). This land was removed in 1911. It was eventually turned over to the Government of Alberta in 1930.
  • Bow Valley Provincial Park and Bragg Creek Provincial Park were created in 1959 and 1960.
  • In 1972, the Alberta Wilderness Association proposed a wilderness area west of Calgary in the Elbow, Sheep and Kananaskis Valleys.
  • That same year, the Environment Conservation Authority identified a need to set aside this area to protect watershed and to provide resource development, tourism and recreation opportunities.
  • Banff-Cochrane MLA Clarence Copithorne, a rancher in the Jumpingpound area, recognized the growing pressure on the eastern slopes from Calgarians wishing to escape the city in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As Minister of Highways, Copithorne planned to upgrade the road into the Kananaskis Valley to divert people away from ranchlands.
  • Calgary architect and environmentalist Bill Milne challenged the government to consult the public about the highway upgrade. Through Mr. Milne, the Government of Alberta received over 48,000 responses to a survey about the future of the eastern slopes. The majority supported creating a large protected area.
  • Many say Mr. Milne and Minister Copithorne convinced former Premier Peter Lougheed to create Kananaskis Country with a single helicopter flight over the Kananaskis Lakes. It can easily be argued that simply seeing the magnificent ranges and valleys, the endless forests and rushing waters was all the convincing the Premier needed… 
  • In 1978, Premier Peter Lougheed officially dedicated Kananaskis Country and Kananaskis Provincial Park (now Peter Lougheed Provincial Park). 
  • Nearly two-thirds of the multi-use area envisioned by Peter Lougheed is now protected as a park, ecological reserve or recreation area. 
  • The needs of industry, ranching and tourism are still balanced with the mandate to preserve the animals, plants, and processes that keep the Kananaskis Country ecosystem healthy.

There are varying degrees of protection and permitted activities within the different categories of landscape, which include six provincial parks, four wildland provincial parks, an ecological reserve, and numerous provincial recreation areas.

Provincial Parks: Bragg Creek Provincial Park, Bow Valley Provincial Park, Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Sheep River Provincial Park, Spray Valley Provincial Park

Wildland Provincial Parks: Bluerock Wildland Provincial Park, Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park, Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park.

Ecological Reserve: Plateau Mountain

2. Where Do Trails Come From And How Are They Managed 

The very first trails arose long ago by wildlife migrating from place to place seeking food and shelter. With the settlement of people most of these earliest trails followed natural features such as creeks, rivers, and ridges. In the latter half or the 20th century, the art and science of trail design and management developed rapidly to provide quality recreation opportunities for hikers and horse riders, and later nordic skiers, and mountain bikers. The techniques of trail design, construction, and maintenance have been improved steadily by a growing force of agency, private, and volunteer trail experts.

Maintenance of designated/sanctioned/formal/recognized/official trails in Kananaskis Country are the responsibly of Alberta Environmental and Parks (AEP, Alberta Parks and Public Land). Due to funding and resource constraints, AEP relies on partner associations to assist with trail building and maintenance, and help sustain the growing recreational trends on foot, on wheels or on a horse.

Multi use trails are most common as they cater to the biggest audience and get the most support to get built and maintained. For example, the trails in WBC are considered All-Seasons Non-Motorized Trails. They accommodate numerous activities including mountain biking, hiking, equestrian users, trail runners, skiers, snowshoers, orienteering, and dog walkers.

Single or limited use trails include specific features that make it impractical for certain groups.

Example 1: Mount Assiniboine single track for hikers and wider track for horseback riders and no bikers due to high traffic area and dangerous encounter between horse back riders and bikers.

Example 2: Star War trail in Banff is meant for bikers with wooden features that are not for horses or hikers.

3. Trail Day – What to expect 

  • Varying details: the length of a trail day will vary depending on the project and organizers, and the level of physical fitness will vary depending on the project and its tasks.
  • A trained Crew Leader will meet you at the parking lot (assigned meeting location).
  • The session will begin with a 15 minute safety talk followed by departure for the worksite.
  • Volunteers will hike and carry tools to worksites up to 4 kilometers from the parking lot.
  • Most worksites are located throughout Kananaskis where there is limited or no cell phone reception.
  • Washrooms are located at the trail heads only. 
  • Weather changes unexpectedly so check the forecast and dress accordingly. See clothing suggestions below.
  • Volunteers are to provide their own lunch and snacks.
  • There will be a first aid kit on site and Crew Leaders are trained in first aid.
  • A suitable communication device will be on site for use in the event of an emergency.
  • Pets are discouraged on volunteer trail days, unless the Crew Leader is agreeable. Pet owners are fully responsible and liable for their pets.
  • We will be using hand tools such as a pulaski, axe, shovel, rake and shears which may cause injury if used inappropriately. Training on proper use will be conducted at the trailhead.
  • The work may consist of building new trails or reroutes, maintaining trails such as repairing ruts, brushing/cutting shrubs, cutting roots, and fine-tuning trail tread. This will include digging, rake duff and earth, lifting and clearing rocks and deadfall, and prune roots and shrubs.

4. Trail Day – What To Bring 

  • Adequate clothing and safety gear for trail days which should include but is not limited to:
  • Eye protection (clear lenses will be best)
  • Long sleeve shirt (sun and snag protection) 
  • Long pants (breathable quick drying are best)
  • Socks (consider wearing 2 pairs; a liner & a thicker outer pair to prevent blisters and improve comfort) 
  • Boots (to prevent sprained ankles and provide support for the day) 
  • Jacket (for rain / cooler temperatures and not your favourite jacket. Remember all the snags and dirt etc.) 
  • Gloves (we can provide some it you forget yours)
  • Lunch / snack (there are no restaurants or stores nearby)
  • Water (it is important to stay hydrated)
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Toilet paper
  • Back pack (for all your stuff)
  • Also a good practice to let someone (family/friend) know that you are going into the backcountry, that you will be out of cell range, that you expect to be back by a certain time, and will let them know when you are out of the backcountry.
GBCTA What To Bring / Expect on a Trail Day

5. Health and Safety

The Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Legislation outlines the general responsibilities to support workers in achieving a Health and Safe work environment. Everyone working as part of the organization; all employees, volunteers, and contractors (collectively, “workers”) is responsible and accountable for health and safety. All workers are expected to understand roles and responsibilities and must comply with the group’s Health and Safety program. All workers have the following fundamental rights.

The Right to Know
All workers have the right to know what hazards may be present at a work site, how these hazards may affect them, and what will be done to control or mitigate the risks associated with these hazards.

The Right and Responsibility to Refuse
All workers have the right to refuse work that they believe on reasonable grounds to be unsafe for themselves or others at the worksite.

The Right and Responsibility to Participate
All workers have the right to participate in health and safety management activities.

The Right and Responsibility to Report
All workers have the right to report safety events (i.e. near miss, incident), unsafe practices, and unsafe conditions without fear of reprisal.

Organizations engaged in volunteer trail work can never guarantee safety, but the risks of injury can be minimized. Volunteers must be apprised of the risks as best they can be anticipated. Acceptance of these risks should be acknowledged by each volunteer before an event in the form of a signed waiver of liability.

Download Full Information
GBCTA Volunteer Agreement