Meadowlark Society is eagerly awaiting the approval of a development permit that will allow it to lay the surface of a trail connecting Beiseker and Irricana.
According to Chairperson Jeannette Richter, the society submitted an application to Rocky View County (RVC) in June.
“It’s been delayed because of COVID and so on,” she said. “It takes a long time to go through RVC to get things done.”
Meadowlark Society is overseeing the construction of the Meadowlark Trail, a 10-kilometre non-motorized recreational pathway. Once complete, the trail will run along a decommissioned portion of the Canadian Pacific Railway between Irricana and Beiseker, which is now owned by Alberta Trail Net Society.
Eventually, the trail – which will accommodate cycling and walking – will be added to Trans Canada Trail’s Great Trail, which connects a series of pathways throughout the country.
The project has been progressing for more than two years, since RVC council approved a land redesignation for the decommissioned railway in September 2018.
In June 2019, council approved the first of two development permits to bring the pathway to fruition. The first permit allowed the installation of two pedestrian bridges – one spanning Crossfield Creek and the other over Rosebud River – and the replacement of a culvert across a drainage ditch near Beiseker. That work was completed in November 2019.
“You’d be surprised at how substantial [the bridges] are,” Richter said. “They’re big enough for a small utility vehicle to go on, but of course, our trail is only open to walking and cycling.”
The next step towards completing the trail will be laying its surface. Instead of pavement or cement, Richter said the pathway’s surface will be comprised of gravel fines, which she said is a pulverized gravel created by grinding stones smaller than usual.
“It’s more forgiving for runners and it’s easy for people to ride their bikes,” she said.
“I know pavement is good for riding your bike on, but for maintenance, when you get roots coming through it, it’s much harder to maintain it. We decided [gravel fines] would be a nice surface for people.”
Over the summer, Richter said some preparation was done in advance of laying the trail's surface.
“What we did do was peeled all the grass on top of it so it would be easier, when we put the trail down, for a machine to scoop up the top of it,” she said.
Some other future work is also planned for the trail, including the construction of a parking lot and the installation of amenities like information kiosks, fencing, benches and landscaping. The kiosks at each end of the trail would tell a brief history of Beiseker and Irricana, and inform users what types of birds or animals they might see along the path.
“The planting, I can see happening next year, and then the benches maybe going in next year," Richter said. "But it’s more of a three-year, five-year and maybe a 10-year plan to keep improving the trail and offering more amenities.”
Considering Irricana does not have its own school, Richter said youth who have to take the bus or drive to Beiseker for their studies will be one group that benefits greatly from the trail.
"One of the reasons I became so enamoured with this idea of having a trail between the two communities is because I could see the kids riding their bikes to school on a safe trail," she said.
According to Richter, the Meadowlark Society will only maintain the trail in the summers, though she said people will still be able to snowshoe or cross-country ski on it during the winters.
“Maybe in the future, we can clear the snow like they do in the city, but right now, we don’t have the capability of doing that,” she said.
“We’re really trying to make this trail belong to the people of Beiseker and Irricana,” she added. “It’ll be up to them to make sure it’s used properly."