July 4, 2015 Rowley Natural Linear Park (Rails to Trails) Cycling

Day 1 of 2 – Car Camping

We spent a weekend camping at Rowley, a small hamlet in Southern Alberta. The hamlet is a ghost town with a few residents, some restored historical buildings and a group camping area. A summary of the history of the town can be found at this link and at Wikipedia. The campground fees are by donation and the amenities include a washroom and shower building. The water there is from a well with a strong taste from lot of minerals, so it’s best to bring your own drinking water, and lots of it — it can get hot during the day and there is minimal shade.

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Exploring the area on my mountain bike, I discovered the abandoned railway bed running south from the hamlet is a public access trail. The trail has been termed a “Natural Linear Park” by the East Central Alberta Heritage Society that formed the trail. This type of trail is commonly referred to as Rails to Trails in the US.

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Starting point of the Rowley Natural Linear Park – looking north

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Starting point of the Rowley Natural Linear Park – looking south

I’ve been following the slow progress of some rails to trails projects in Western Canada but didn’t know about this one, so its discovery was a welcome surprise. I managed to cycle south down the trail for about 40 minutes each way and didn’t have a chance to ride further. I’m not sure how far it goes or what other sections have been converted, there does not appear to be any maps made yet.

I know these projects can be controversial with local landowners, so I’m grateful the landowners in this area have co-operated to establish the trail. All users must pack out all garbage — otherwise public access could be lost. Adjacent land is privately owned and cannot be accessed; camping and fires are not allowed. Sections of the abandoned railway that are not open to the public must be respected as no trespassing zones.

The section of trail I rode on had stunning prairie scenery and even an outhouse. However, the surface has not been improved from the old railway gravel bed. Its very rough to ride on, even on a mountain bike with 2.1 inch wide tires. I was not able to ride faster than second gear on the front chainring and third gear on the rear cassette. The path would be better suited to hiking (with hiking boots) or a bike with wider tires at low pressure (3 to 4 inch width). A few sections had loose gravel that I could barely ride through.

It would be nice to see the trail upgraded to a crusher dust surface sometime in the future — donate and write in to the East Central Alberta Heritage Society to make it happen!!

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Some of the better surface conditions in the initial section

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Outhouse

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Some sections of the trail had large, rounded loose rocks and boulders that were challenging to ride through at more than a slow speed (with 2 inch tires)

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I can’t wait to return next year and see what’s around the next bend!

UPDATE – July 7, 2016: I came across this information about long-term plans to expand the Natural Linear Parks to a total of 114 km. Exciting news!

“Seven sections of Natural Linear Park, located on abandoned rail bed owned by the East Central Alberta Heritage Society, have already been created. The four kilometre sections total approximately 25 kilometres out of more than 114 kilometres of available right of way between Edberg and Rumsey, AB. Located in natural virgin territory, the trails are ecologically important. They help to preserve wetlands and provide the treed corridors required by a variety of migrating bird species, while creating excellent opportunities for people to connect with nature…. It is hoped that a Natural Linear Park encompassing the entire 114 kilometres of right of way can eventually be created.”

 

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3 Responses to “July 4, 2015 Rowley Natural Linear Park (Rails to Trails) Cycling”

  1. adventurepdx Says:

    Looks like a nice one. Reminds me of a trail in Manitoba just south of Riding Mountain National Park. April and I tried to use it for a bit to get off of Manitoba’s notoriously horrible roads, but since the surface was “unimproved”, we were getting nowhere fast, so we decided to try our luck on the roads. Luckily we found a few quiet ones for awhile. I think that they don’t get many cyclists through there, so as long as a snowmobiler can use it in the winter, that’s good enough for them.

    I’m wondering if this is because of funding. Is there any similar organization in Canada to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy down here?

  2. prairievoyageur Says:

    I don’t know of an equivalent Rails to Trails national organization in Canada. A brief internet search yields the Trans Canada Trail project only.

    It seems that remote trails that are not close to urban centers are more likely to be used by off-road motor vehicles than self-powered travel. Part of it is cultural, part of it is practical. The sparse populations in many areas make interconnected trails with improved surfaces difficult and costly to build and maintain.

    Off-road vehicles are not permitted on the Rowley trail. I feel that the Rowley trail is close enough to urban centers and a major highway to warrant improvement. It has had zero advertising that I’ve seen and minimal web presence, so that would need to be addressed to help generate the traffic to warrant improvement.

    The link to the East Central Alberta Heritage Society indicates a few other trail segments in the area:

    “These natural linear parks include close to 11 miles of the society’s rail rights of way – running one-half mile immediately south of Edberg, one and one-half miles north of Meeting Creek, two miles south of Big Valley parallel to Range Road 201A and 202A, two and one-half miles south of Rumsey, including the Rumsey swamp wetlands, and more than four miles immediately south from Rowley.”

    I did find this list of rails to trails projects in Canada which is interesting:

    http://www.railserve.com/Rails-to-Trails/Canada/

    And this summary of existing and potential rails to trails projects in Alberta:

    http://www.forthjunction.com/rails-to-trails.htm

  3. prairievoyageur Says:

    I also found the National Trails Coalition (NTC) and Alberta TrailNet:

    http://www.ntc-canada.ca/

    http://www.albertatrailnet.com/

    The NTC has a study that includes a section on Rails to Trails (Section 7):

    http://www.ntc-canada.ca/pdf/NTC-Canadian-Trails-Study.pdf

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