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For the love of Trails!

Do you love to spend time outdoors like I do? Are you new to outdoor recreation but appreciate the great opportunities that you are finding in your city or state or province? During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have become reliant on outdoor recreation as a way to interact with our loved ones in a safe manner, get a change of scenery, and stay physically active more than ever before. And this is great! People are discovering or rediscovering their love of the outdoors and getting physically active in nature, which is great for our bodies and for connecting us to nature. And, where there is an outdoor recreational trail, there is also likely a local trail association!

While people are engaging in all kinds of outdoor activities, you may have noticed that some designated walking trails have become substantially busier during the pandemic. It’s no surprise, considering that trails can be used for a number of great recreational activities such as walking or hiking, biking and skiing or even skating in the winter.

As a result, we are seeing more and more people taking advantage of these spaces and realizing just how important they are to our physical and mental wellbeing.

With that being the case, maybe we should be using this momentum to not only create more trails for active transportation within our cities, but increase trail maintenance efforts as well! This is where those wonderful folks who run Trails Associations work come into play!

What are Trails Associations?

It is easy to take the quantity and quality of our trails for granted, but in reality, there is a lot of work and thought that goes into the trails that run throughout our cities, provinces and states.

Trails Associations, sometimes called Trails Organizations, are non-profit organizations which are concerned with active transportation as a means to facilitate the development of sustainable cities and facilitate outdoor recreation in both rural and urban settings.

In order to encourage active transportation, our cities must be well equipped with trails which are safe, efficient, aesthetically pleasing, environmentally friendly, and comfortable. And it is a lovely idea to get out into nature, but going skiing or hiking is really only practical with well-maintained trails.

These objectives are met through many projects and activities such as academic research and data collection, project management and implementation, policy development, cultural and artistic projects, community outreach, and much more! There are a whole bunch of people involved in these projects which ensure our trails are the best they can be!

What do Trails Associations have to offer?

First and foremost, Trails Associations are responsible for advocating for, and perhaps implementing new trails and maintaining existing ones. But more than that, they are associated with tons of other projects that make active transportation accessible to all!

For example, most Trails Associations will have a website where you can find a listing of all the different trails in your city, province or state, along with corresponding maps! These maps will often include the distance of the trail, the surface type, available free parking nearby, accessible washroom sites, as well as any points of interest that you may want to check out along your journey.

This is a great resource, as chances are that there are tons of trails out there that you are currently unaware of. There is hardly a better way to explore your local region this summer!

Of course, active transportation occurs in places other than designated nature trails. Maintaining our city sidewalks and bike paths is also very important when it comes to promoting active transportation for all.

Trails associations may be involved in projects which improve these areas of cities and towns as well. For example, they may take cycling safety into consideration by advocating for the creation of separated bike lanes and designated trails.

Speaking of safety, Trails Associations often provide information on trail safety and trail etiquette to make sure everyone’s experience is welcoming.

Some important safety and etiquette rules include staying on the right and passing on the left, calling out or ringing a bike bell before passing someone, no littering or smoking, giving right of way to smaller and slower users, obey signs, and respect all wildlife that you encounter, and keeping your pets on leash at all times - if they are allowed on the trail.

The Saskatchewan Trails Association has a great safety and etiquette guide which lists everything you should keep in mind when using any sort of trail.

Winnipeg Trails Association

The Winnipeg Trails Association (WTA) is a great example of a Trails Association that is doing important work in this city.

The Winnipeg Trails Association was founded in order to address the city’s need to create a single trail. Since then, WTA has grown to represent an informal coalition of 40+ organizations focused on the needs of trail users.

WTA has been involved in a variety of projects from building the city’s Floodway to creating the first protected bikeway. Currently, the WTA is working on creating “School Loops” which seek to address transportation-related crises stemming from the Pandemic. These School Loops connect a small group of schools together, creating a safe route for children to take to school.

Another current project involves creating and installing wheelchair ramps for local businesses so that their buildings are accessible to all.

Make sure to check out the website of your local trails association in order to learn about what projects they are involved in, take advantage of the services they have to offer, and support them in any way possible whether that be through volunteering or donating!

To love our time in the outdoors, we also need to help protect these vital trails by working to create safe and well maintained spaces for all of the users. Enjoying nature is wonderful, but we need to protect these spaces that we enjoy! If you love your local trail, make sure to show some love to the local Trails Association too!

A.J. and I just signed up to help out with the Gimli Trails Association because their ski trails helped get us through these past pandemic winter months! The weekend skis there were immensely enjoyable for us - and we want to give back more than just our financial support. Thanks to all of you great Trails Association volunteers out there!

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