Flood recovery: A day on Upper Lake Trail

Our volunteer trail crew doing the finishing work on Upper Lake Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

Our volunteer trail crew doing the finishing work on Upper Lake Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

This past July, I spent half a day with one of Alberta Parks’ Kananaskis Country trail crews while they worked on a long stretch of the newly rebuilt Ribbon Creek Trail. While they cut back roots, widened the path with heavy hand tools and shovelled debris out of the way I took pictures and notes. After lunch, I headed back down to the trailhead thinking “Maybe I should have done some work.”

So when the opportunity came up a month later to go back out with another crew, I thought I should literally get my hands dirty. This was a day of volunteer trail rebuilding, one of more than 35 days organized during the 2014 season as a partnership between Alberta Parks and Friends of Kananaskis Country. FoKC volunteers are paired with Parks trail crew to do the finishing work on trails throughout the region, this year with a special focus on areas damaged by the 2013 flood.

There had been a light dusting of unseasonable snow on this trail crew day, in early September.

There had been a light dusting of unseasonable snow on this trail crew day, in early September.

I met our crew leader Terry, four other volunteers, and Tom and Phil from the Peter Lougheed regional trail crew at the Upper Kananaskis Lake parking lot at 9 am on a Saturday. It would be a four-kilometre hike in to the work site, along a piece of the spectacular Upper Lake Trail which skirts the lakeshore through dense pine forest and sections of rockfall. At the site, a segment of existing trail had been rerouted earlier in the summer, tracing a path away from the flood-susceptible point where the Upper Kananaskis River tumbles into the lake. We were there to finish the job.

Under a light layer of early snow, we spaced ourselves out along the preliminary cut of the new trail, and went to work with shovels and pulaskis (heavy and brutally efficient axe / hoe hybrid tools). Most of the work was in widening the new path, chopping persistent roots away, and chucking clumps of moss, root, and dirt off into the underbrush. It was satisfying work, and the four or so hours we spent at the site flew by. With a stop for lunch on the shore of Upper Lake, where we spotted three people peacefully fishing from power boats, and the hike in and out, it was a full day.

The view of Upper Kananaskis Lake from the trail work site.

The view of Upper Kananaskis Lake from the trail work site.

I discovered that I had a few muscles that had possibly never been used before, but it was a fun challenge, and I came away from the day with the conclusion that if you can handle moderate hiking and yardwork, the volunteer trail crew can find a job for you.

Check out Alberta Parks trail crew and other volunteer opportunities here.

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