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What Are ‘Pirate Trails’? And Why Are People Using Them in Kananaskis?

Researchers are seeking to unravel the motivations behind using unofficial trails

Are you the type that stays the course? Or, are you more likely to forge your way and take the path less travelled?

If you’re part of the more adventurous group, researchers from the University of Alberta are interested in discovering your reasons for venturing off the beaten path.

The researchers want to understand why some outdoor enthusiasts use unmanaged ‘pirate trails’ trails in Kananaskis Country and how this behaviour might impact wildlife and sensitive habitats. 

photo of a wooden boardwalk trail through an opening in the forest with flowers growing along the pathway
Developed and maintained trails help prevent erosion and habitat degradation. Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

Pirate trails are unofficial trails that lack signs or guidance from authorities. They are rarely marked on trail maps.

The U of A researchers are surveying trail users in the Spray, Bow, and Kananaskis valleys to gather insights into people’s decision-making processes.

The study is part of the Canmore Corridor Project and will aid in developing a Canmore Area Trails Strategy (CATS) to guide future trail management decisions. 

The U of A researchers will examine how people’s knowledge of wildlife, confidence in differentiating official from unofficial trails, and wildlife warnings influence choices about which trails to follow.

Additionally, the study will look at what sorts of activities are undertaken by trail users, such as hiking, running, backpacking, and fishing.

The researchers hope to shed light on the factors that drive people to use unofficial trails, which often traverse wildlife habitats intended for preservation. 

This knowledge is essential in Kananaskis Country, which receives over four million visitors annually. 

The study is open to participation from those who recreate in the upper reaches of Kananaskis Country, with an online survey available until mid-October.

The research findings are expected to guide trail management strategies, contribute to the Canmore Area Trails Strategy, and be published in academic journals.

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