Blazing trail in Wood Buffalo National Park

Click on the slideshow above to view captions.Photos: Chris Higgins.

It’s amazing what a few people can do.

A group of 20 outdoor enthusiasts attended a trail-building workshop run by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) last Saturday.

The picturesque south loop of the Salt River Trail – just inside the park boundary on the way to Pine Lake – was the focus of their attention.

The crew even rerouted a section of trail to improve it for all users, particularly mountain bikers.

One of the those who turned out to help was biking advocate Jason Panter.

“The reroute is awesome,” Panter said. “This is really tuning it up and making it easier to ride for everyone. Before it was a tricky section and for bikers it could be dangerous.”

Deanne and Chad Lazaruk from IMBA’s Trail Care Crew have been travelling across the country teaching parks staff and community groups how to make better trails. The workshops were put together through a partnership with Parks Canada and the Trans Canada Trail Association.

Deanne said that more and more people recognize the value of rebuilding trails.

“Trails are the biggest draw for park users, with over 97 per cent of visitors using trails, so they’re a very important part of the infrastructure,” she said. “We’re also out here to train park staff so they can build and maintain trails that are sustainable and last a lot longer.”

The goal for the day was to reroute rather than repair a 75-metre section of the trail near Grosbeak Lake on the Salt River trail system. Ultimately, the Trail Care Crew hoped to teach the group how to do the work themselves.

“We’re building a template of what trails should look like for future reroutes,” Chad said. “Doing repairs is often much too labour intensive and requires using heavy equipment and bringing in materials. It’s easier to rebuild a trail and design it especially for trail users.”

After years of use, the old path had become a series of deep ruts covered with roots that in wet weather turned into black, muddy patches. Deanne said that one of the major challenges of trail-building in WBNP is bison regularly use the trails and leaving huge hoofprints behind. When those impressions dry, they feel like potholes for bike riders and pose hazards for hikers.

During the afternoon, volunteers worked up a sweat scraping away a new path that the Lazaruks had flagged.

Moving from one section of the new trail to another, Chad directed volunteers to remove the surface layers down to the red soil underneath, and compact the earth to a hardened smooth surface.

It’s done so vegetation cannot grow over the path later, which in the end means much less trail maintenance, he said.

Other volunteers, shovels in hand, dug channels in lower sections to drain water off the trail, reducing soil erosion.

One of their main concerns, he said, was to minimize their impact on the forest by not cutting live trees and covering up any signs of the old trail so people are more inclined to use the new section.

The new ‘single track’ weaves around trees, making it more interesting for users.

For bikers, he said, creating a smooth flow so they are constantly moving is best.

Janna Jaque from Parks Canada, who helped with the rerouting, said she hoped the workshop encourages more people to use WBNP trails.

“We’re hoping people get more excited about the trails they have access to and start using them in different ways.”

“Many people don’t know they can ride bikes on trails in national parks. Maybe by rebuilding the trails themselves it creates some excitement and they’ll feel a greater sense of connection to them.”

In spite of the colder weather, Deanne said they were impressed with the volunteer turnout and what they accomplished in only five hours. The next stop on their tour is Newfoundland, but before leaving Fort Smith, they planned on exploring some of the riding trails around town.

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