ATHABASCA – A request to map out a snowmobile trail along local highways left Athabasca County councillors intrigued, but concerned over possible jurisdictional clashes with the province.
During their Aug. 31 council meeting, councillors voted 6-3 in favour of a motion — reeve Brian Hall and councillors Tracy Holland, Kelly Chamzuk, Gary Cromwell, Joe Gerlach, and Rob Minns were in favour, while councillors Ashtin Anderson, Natasha Kapitaniuk and Camille Wallach were opposed — to table the request to the Sept. 12 meeting to allow administration time to gather further information.
“It’s important that we explore all opportunities that bring people to the region, and coordinate activities that are already happening,” said Hall in a Sept. 6 interview.
“We have a terrific snowmobile club here that has done really well in terms of their growth and trail management here, and the fact that they’re willing to put the work in to expand the trail network is a really positive thing.”
Michael Schmid, Cory Jardine, and Dave Bilsky, all representatives from the Athabasca River Runners Snowmobile Club, were joined by Alberta Snowmobile Association (ASA) executive director Chris Brookes for the presentation, which focused on the clubs proposed cross-county route to link two trail networks up.
“The Great Canadian Snowmobile Trail (GCST) goes all across Canada, until about Smoky Lake, where it ends and picks up again at our trail system out near Baptiste Lake and Forfar,” said Schmid, who maintains the western trails. “The only viable way I can see to get across the county is to use the road ditches, given all the farmland and fencing in-between.”
The proposal would take riders up Highway 831 to the western side of Boyle, then run along Highway 63 and 663 until Range Road 204. The route would run north until Township Road 660, which would be used until it connects with Hwy 827. From there, Highway 55 and Highway 2 would be used until it linked back up with existing infrastructure near Whispering Hills.
“This project isn’t unique; we do similar things across the province, including the Golden Triangle system, which starts in Whitecourt,” said Brookes. “[ASA] has been working with the club to find these connections; this is a multi-generational activity, and it helps people put down roots. Local industry is supportive of this since it builds community and keeps workers in town.”
Councillors had two major concerns before they felt comfortable moving forward with the project: how would the route effect ratepayers along the way, and was the province okay with the usage of highway ditches?
“We haven’t started consultation yet, we wanted to make sure that this route made the most sense beforehand,” said Schmid. ‘The only thing we would be doing is going over approaches into yards; we have trails that do that already, and we haven’t had any issues with it before.”
When it came to jurisdiction, no one seemed to have a clear answer — an initial assertion from Brookes that the county had jurisdiction over the highway ditches was met with uncertainty from councillors.
“In single numbered highways, the province obviously doesn’t want us running on them, but on two-numbered highways, we have some access in some locations,” said Brookes. “They prefer us organizing and channelling activity rather than having guys riding all over.”
“Right now, while I love the idea, I’m struggling with a few components of the idea, it feels rushed,” said Holland. “I get their urgency, but I think that even on a trial basis it would be an issue.
“Looking at the big picture, I think there’s a few things that would need to happen before we move forward with it.”