Responses to Rural Issues

Issue 1: The trail is used by only 3% of our population.

Response: Trail studies consistently show that 65-80% of the users of a trail are from the immediate local area. Provincial recreation surveys show that walking and hiking score most highly as Albertans’ preferred recreational activity, followed by cycling which is typically ranked third or fourth.

Accessible trails encourage otherwise inactive people to use trails daily. Trail use continues to grow along with public demand for new trail infrastructure.

Issue 2: The organization proposing this idea is registered as a society or charity. Therefore, there are several issues that come into play including:

  • M.D.’s pay the largest percentage of the maintenance costs and
  • Emergency services become the public responsibility

Response: Many people and groups promote trail development for the opportunities and benefits trails provide, most particularly enhanced quality of life opportunities. For this reason many municipalities are either building trails for the first time or are expanding their local trail systems. People would like to be able to access trails in the areas where they work and live and not have to drive to the mountains to have a trail experience. In addition people increasingly would like to be able to travel longer distances on trails – from community to community and from province to province. Trails are an important part of local infrastructure. Local residents are the primary users and beneficiaries from trails and other community recreational infrastructure.

Issue 3: Economically existing trail contributions to local economies vary from very little to negative values.

Response: By promoting active living, every investment in trails saves dollars in health care costs. Trails are becoming the recreation experience of choice amongst an ever-increasing population of Albertans of all age groups. People who enjoy hiking, skiing, cycling, horseback riding, or snowmobiling all use trails, as do others who enjoy nature appreciation, bird watching and other outdoor pursuits. Trails provide and support family recreation opportunities and assist in engaging youth in healthy outdoor activities and environmental awareness and stewardship.

The average long distance trail user spends $40 per day locally. The 800 kilometre Bruce Trail in Ontario supports 200 direct and 800 indirect jobs within 10 kilometres of the trail. Snowmobilers spend close to $200 million annually in Alberta alone.

Issue 4: The effect on agriculture in adjacent areas has been unprecedented.

Because of the proximity to the trail, real estate values have dropped, appeals to tax assessment have occurred, insurance costs have increased and in some cases insurance on land has been refused:

  • Devaluation of property
  • Loss and damage of property
  • Increased insurance and
  • Division of agricultural property with no concern for access

Response: Re. ‘Devaluation of property’

A number of studies have been done on this issue. Results of that research indicate that property values typically increase but may also remain unchanged as a result of a trail being constructed in proximity to private property. Property devaluation caused by proximity to a trail would be a very unusual or rare occurrence. Land developers promote trails as a value added benefit to choosing their development; properties adjacent to a trail have higher values because of that location.

Response: Re. ‘Loss and damage of property’

Trail users are informed of appropriate behaviour through signage and messages in trail guides and on maps. Other users provide ‘eyes on the trail’ and promote self-regulation; local trail stewards assist the local trail operator who is responsible for ensuring that users are aware of and obey the regulations for that trail.

The Petty Trespass Act and the Trespass to Premises Act apply to Crown and all other lands, except land under grazing lease. Both Acts create offences for persons who enter onto land without permission or otherwise having the right to enter.

Alberta TrailNet and the Province do not believe that landowners should be responsible for the safety of recreationists on their land. Both have worked consistently to have the Occupier’s Liability Act changed to reduce the duty owed by landowners to visitors. (see attached info)

Most long distance trail users share a respect and love of the land unique to themselves and landowners. Trails connect communities to each other, allow users to interact with nature, and offer a peaceful setting for sharing family experiences.

Response: Re. ‘Increased insurance’

Trails are treated no differently than roads, which provide existing access to most habited areas of the province. Insurers have indicated that a landowner’s insurance amounts or costs will not increase due to a trail being developed on adjacent land. They have also indicated that rural property insurance policies have a minimum $1,000,000 general liability insurance built into the rural insurance policy. Trail operator groups and municipalities also carry general liability insurance policies.

Response: Re ‘Division of agricultural property with no concern for access’

Less than 15 percent of the Trans Canada or other trails in Alberta will use former rail grades.

Other corridors, such as wilderness routes, park trails, canal service roads and section roads all manage the problem of intersecting fields. For rail lands owned by Alberta TrailNet, TrailNet has agreed to provide and will make arrangements with landowners to allow continued access. Landowners requiring access should contact Alberta TrailNet in the case of lands owned by TrailNet or the relevant land manager in other areas.

Issue 5: The trail is pursuing legislation, which includes a 20 km buffer zone on which they would have the right to restrict farming practices (re: the growing of canola).

Response: This is a misunderstanding of the origin and meaning of this phrase. The phrase ‘20 km buffer zone’ refers to the 20 km wide Study Area for an economic impact study done by PriceWaterhouseCoopers for Alberta Community Development in 2000 (see Appendix 1 of the study). That study focuses on the economic impacts that could be expected to occur if a trail were to be developed in an area of east central Alberta. Copies of the study are available through Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation or the Alberta TrailNet Society where the reference and its meaning can be checked and understood.

Issue 6: The trail brochures promote off trail excursions to investigate points of interest such as interesting yard sites etc.

Response: Trails provide economic and tourism opportunities. Most communities develop brochures and signage to promote their local trails, local recreational and tourism opportunities, and historic and other points of interest in their areas. Community trail groups work in partnership with their communities on trail (development and promotion) projects for that area. User awareness is encouraged. ‘Use Respect’ and ‘Respect the Land’ messages are important components of public information materials. Trail users are directed to ‘Stay on the Trail’ and to respect the people who live along the trail, the working and natural environments along the trail, and other users.

Issue 7: The trail is lobbying for free roam legislation. Basically this is the right to trespass at the discretion of the trespasser.

Response: The phrase “Free Roam” refers to British law that protects historic rights of way and rights of passage. Canada does not have such legislation and there is no group advocating for such legislation in Alberta or Canada.

Issue 8: Usage of the trail is ultimately determined by some outside organization. So much for local concerns.

Response: The decision regarding approved uses for a section of trail is made by the municipality in consultation with residents and the local trail operator group. In Alberta, in particular on public lands including parks and protected areas, approved uses are determined by the Government of Alberta, and may include other uses besides those listed above. Where the trail crosses private land (which can only occur under specific written permission from that landowner), the landowner determines approved uses in consultation with the local trail operator. Municipalities may also approve other uses at the discretion of the Municipality. Once a local decision is made regarding approved trail uses, the trail is designed to accommodate those uses and managed to control unauthorized uses.

Attachment 1

New Legislation Impacting Trail Development and Use

For a number of years, Alberta TrailNet and other stakeholders have been requesting revisions to the Occupier’s Liability Act. Concerns have centered around the need to provide enhanced protection to land managers, land owners and trail operators from liability claims brought by persons who are injured as a result of using trails in an unauthorized or unsafe manner, or while trespassing on private land. In 2003 new legislation was passed to address these concerns.

2003 Spring Session Bill Amendments Impacting Trails

The Alberta Government has passed a number of pieces of new legislation with possible impacts to trails or trail users. This legislation will assist in responding to landowner and operator concerns, especially regarding access and liability.

With Bill 16, (Agricultural Dispositions Statutes Amendment Act) the issue of liability of landowners and occupiers was partially addressed, at least as it relates to public land with agricultural disposition holders. It was therefore important to consider a further amendment to the Occupiers’ Liability Act, in order to ensure consistency on other land including (as outlined in Bill 208):

  • rural premises that are used for agricultural purposes including land under cultivation; vacant or undeveloped premises, and forested or wilderness premises;
  • golf courses when not open for playing;
  • utility rights-of-way excluding structures located on them; and
  • recreational trails reasonably marked as such.

1. Bill 208, the Occupiers’ Liability (Recreational Users) Amendment Act, 2003

Bill 208 amended the Occupiers’ Liability Act so that the common duty of care owed by landowners or occupiers on land used for recreational purposes will be removed. Under Bill 208, landowners or occupiers would only be held liable should they display willful or reckless conduct toward a recreational user that results in injury or death. Bill 208 is also in line with the idea that responsibility be placed more directly on the trail user.

Discussion: Fear of a potential lawsuit may prevent landowners from permitting recreational users on their property. Bill 208 will reduce the current level of liability that landowners and occupiers owe to visitors on their property and will place the responsibility on recreational users for their actions. The liability of an occupier to a person who uses premises for a recreational purpose shall be determined as if the person were a trespasser. Therefore, owners and occupiers would not be held liable for anything that is common practice, except where death or injury to recreational visitors occurs due to the willful and reckless conduct of the landowner or land occupier. While relieving landowners of the burden of liability from recreational users on their lands, Bill 208 also supports trail operators by reducing their liability and risk, thereby assisting to keep insurance premiums at manageable levels. The Occupiers’ Liability (Recreational Users) Amendment Act, 2003 has now been proclaimed.

With injury liability concerns lessened, Alberta landowners and occupiers may be more willing to allow recreational users to enter their land for recreational purposes. As well, Bill 208 may reduce the insurance requirements for municipalities and trail operators and encourage greater participation and commitment to recreation corridor development, operation and maintenance.

2. Bill 6, the Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2003

Bill 6 will amend the Petty Trespass Act by raising the amount of the fine to $2000 from $100. In addition, section 5 that requires the laying of a charge before a magistrate by the owner or occupier has been deleted. Law enforcement officers can now lay charges upon a complaint. Citizen’s arrests are still possible. Therefore there are now more stringent penalties and a streamlined procedure.

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