Hiking the Bill Milne Bike Path in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
The Bill Milne Bike Trail begins from the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis, west of Calgary, Alberta and 25 KM ( 15¾ miles) south on Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40).
The lodge is up the hill on Centennial Drive past Ribbon Creek. A right turn into Mount Sparrowhawk Crescent and a quick tuck left provides a parking spot close to the trail-head.
The Bill Milne Trail is a paved trail with a yellow line down the middle for alternate direction bicycle traffic. In winter the Bill Milne Trail provides a popular path for cross country skiers.
The trail is open from the Delta Lodge to the Kananaskis River, closed for flood damage and repair between the Kananaskis River bridge and the Mount Kidd RV Park, then open again from the RV Park to Wedge Pond.
There is a problem with bridges, the most visible being the 'Bridge to Nowhere' at Evan-Thomas Creek. The Bill Milne trail-head is clearly signed, back a bit, on the other side of Centennial Drive.
The Bill Milne Trail descends through beautiful dense forest adjacent to the relatively inconspicuous Centennial Trail road access.
Periodically there are openings which provide spectacular views of surrounding mountains on a journey through fond memories of past adventures.
The trail pops out of forest, after a quick 2.4 KM (1½ mile) descent, near the bridge over Ribbon Creek. Although the large bridge survived, there has been significant flood damage here. Substantial, but fundamental, restoration has been underway.
On the other side of Ribbon Creek, the trail is either washed away or covered with rock. The gravel road to Kovach Pond offers an alternative.
Kovach Pond survives the onslaught of flood and is worthy of a brief detour to enjoy the phenomenal mountain view in the background before returning to the Bill Milne Trail at the Kovach Pond picnic area.
A short distance east leads to Kananaskis River and a brass plaque in tribute to the man for whom the trail is named.
From the bridge over the Kananaskis River there are classic views of Mount Lorette and Mary Barklay's Mountain to the north, and the traditional southwest photograph of Mount Kidd past the flood-altered Kananaskis River is always a stunning image and particularly resplendent on this fine, sunny day.
The next step is the hike out to Kananaskis Trail to walk the shoulder of the highway south to Mount Kidd RV Park as the route around the flood damaged and closed portion of the Bill Milne Trail.
Although the next section of the Bill Milne Bike Path is published as closed, there are no signs indicating closure and there is visible evidence of recent bicycle and foot traffic.
Venturing a bit further on the Bill Milne Trail may require a reversal but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Hiking south now on the Bill Milne Trail, there is significant flood damage which has been cleared from the trail. The first bridge held firm in spite of the rock which saturated the creek bed and the timber debris clogging the side rails.
There are delightful ponds at trail side and the next bridge has fared better than the first. Sections of forest alternate with massive open meadows which provide sweeping vistas of surrounding mountains.
There are large numbers of deer enjoying this day but they take flight from significant distance. Timber debris confirms these huge meadows were inundated with water from the river and Fisher Range drainages to the east.
Further along Bill Milne Trail, arrival at another bridge occurs where the pavement is interrupted. Transition is a careful step down, then up onto the secure, albeit debris-surrounded bridge.
Whoever built these wooden bridges knew what they were doing. Clearly there is a 'Trail Closed' sign with yellow warning tape. The regroup is a long way back, and again, there are clear signs of traffic in the mud on the other side.
The temptation to continue is strong with the understanding to exercise high caution. There is temporary guilt.
Surrounding views are awesome. Breathtaking! Open meadows provide fabulous vistas of surrounding mountains which still photographs cannot capture. Further south, the Bill Milne Bike Path passes entrance to a construction and maintenance yard. New path has been laid down here. The new asphalt path tracks beneath power lines.
The heavily damaged and closed-for-business Kananaskis Country Golf Course periodically peaks through the evergreen apron on the right. Heavy equipment operation on the trail forces a detour through eerily vacant parking areas for the golf course.
Again curiosity takes charge for a half an hour spent touring the grounds close to the trail.
A separate post of golf course flood damage photos will follow.
Back on the Bill Milne Trail hiking continues along excellent paved path until arrival at the infamous bridge which was previously over the Evan-Thomas Creek.
The June 2013 flood altered the creek substantially and swept away a section of the trail. The bridge is stranded as the raging creek changed course. Major reconstruction has been underway on this channel for many months.
One of the final steps will be to re-link the trail. It is not a small or inexpensive effort. Although the bridge seems stable, there are sections washed out and collections of debris against the foundations. The replacement solution is different than anticipated.
The Evan-Thomas Creek bridge is the intended objective for the day, however a further 6 KM (3¾ mile) round trip distance will allow the opportunity to hike the entire trail and also to have lunch at Wedge Pond.
Evan-Thomas Creek is in spring run-off. The sensible route to continue is the short hike to Kananaskis Trail and around to the Bill Milne Bike Path from the other side.
Looking back at signage, at the north access to Bill Milne Trail from Mount Kidd RV Park indicates penalty for trespass of up to $100,000. Good Lord! On the other hand, not a place for the inexperienced and definitely not a place for un-escorted children.
Danger management and risk is above average. Parks will certainly want to resolve this easily accessible exposure as quickly as possible. The next section of trail leads to a crossing over Kananaskis Trail on the path to Wedge Pond.
The section of trail to Wedge Pond is a forest walk on rolling, twisting path through huge stands of lodge pole pine. Sunlight, shadow and dead fall create fascinating geometric images along the trail.
Lunch at nearly vacant Wedge Pond, in the sun, with Richardson Squirrels in attendance is glorious as boots and socks dry out.
There are excellent views on the return hike. It is difficult to choose just a few images from hundreds of photographs taken on this hike.
The view from the opposite direction at Evan-Thomas Creek is poignant and representative of the flood water's power. This 'bridge to nowhere' icon is temporary but none-the-less fascinating.
With hindsight, the bicycle would have been a better option. It is a long walk but there is greater opportunity to absorb the non-stop, surrounding scenery.
Flood damage is constantly evident but much of it has been repaired between Evan-Thomas Creek and the bridge over Kananaskis River. The best approach is to honor trail closures. Many people do not want to give up another hiking season on some of the parks best and most traveled trails.
The final stretch between Ribbon Creek and the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis is an ascent on tired legs. On this day hiking covers about 25 KM (15⅝ miles). Hiking on pavement is less forgiving than good trail. When the Bill Milne Trail is fully restored, it will be a grand trail experience on the bicycle.
Trail repair teams need time to complete restoration of the Bill Milne Bike Path before the public begins using the entire, one-way 11 KM (6⅞ mile) length between Delta Lodge at Kananaskis and Wedge Pond. Check progress with Alberta Parks.
Photographs for this post were captured on June 1, 2014.