We’ve all seen them, trails that are rutted, trails that once were single file paths that are now widened due to boggy conditions, and trails that take short cuts down steeper slopes. Think Drummond Ridge in the Whitehorse Wildland Park south of Hinton where OHVs have disregarded park signage prohibiting their entry into the alpine. Consider Maccarib Pass in Jasper National Park where horses have turned the trail into Tonquin Valley into a quagmire. Consider Coliseum Mountain along Highway 11 in the Bighorn Backcountry where hikers cut straight down the mountainside before Environment blocked off these social trails.

The degradation of trails is the work of not only OHVs, but also of hikers, cyclists, horses and… water. When trails have not been built to withstand the wear and tear of their users, erosion results.

The answer? Professionally designed and constructed trails. Professional trail building companies plan, design and construct recreational trails that limit environmental impacts and keep maintenance requirements to a minimum. They use techniques such as limiting grades to 15 percent, contour trails that outslope and that gently traverse a hill or sideslope, and building up the foundation of trails over wetlands.

As the Alberta government ponders trail usage in the new Castle provincial and wildland parks and, hopefully, a wildland park for the Bighorn, it will be important for Alberta Environment and Parks to design new trails and to reconstruct old trails that adopt these techniques. Sustainable trails with low maintenance is a critical objective if we are serious about tackling the degradation of trails.