Backcountry enthusiast says he won’t give up fight to restore historic trail
Jasper National Park’s superintendent is standing firm on his refusal to replace a bridge to Athabasca Pass Historical Site.
A letter from JNP superintendent Alan Fehr’s office told backcountry enthusiast and professional engineer Trevor Willson that despite Willson’s enthusiastic proposal to fund the design, replacement and maintenance of the Simon Creek Bridge on the 49-km Athabasca Pass Trail, preserving the remote area’s ecological integrity supersedes the idea of facilitating visits to the historic valley.
It was the third refusal letter from Fehr’s office since January 2023.
“The bridge replacement may result in an increase in human use and impact in this remote area,” the July letter states. “This is inconsistent with direction in the Jasper National Park Management Plan.”
Willson, who is based in Calgary, disagrees. For one, trails and primitive campgrounds are permitted in Declared Wilderness Areas, he says. Secondly, there couldn’t possibly be significant numbers of people using the trail simply because of the occupancy limits of the trails’ existing backcountry campgrounds.
“They don’t want people in the backcountry, but that’s not consistent with the Canada National Parks Act,” Willson said.
He pointed to Section 4 (1) of the CNPA which states the national parks of Canada shall be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
“Trail bridges are part of trails,” Willson said.
Athabasca Pass Trail, which originates southwest of Jasper townsite, was the main fur trade route through the Rocky Mountains from 1811 to the 1850s. Since 1971, the Athabasca Pass National Historic Site has been marked by a plaque at the rudimentary campground there. It’s a tribute to Canada’s greatest map-maker, David Thompson, and Willson, for one, wants people to be able to appreciate its place in history.
“Visitors need to experience the parks away from the highways,” says Willson. “But trails need to be in adequate condition so people don’t get hurt while using them.”
For those unwilling to ford a dangerously swift river, the trail from Jasper National Park to Athabasca Pass has been impassable since the Simon Creek bridge was wiped out by ice in 2016. Its neglect has been a bugbear of Jasper trail users, including Ken Groat, president of the Rocky Mountain Wilderness Society, who says that re-establishing the Athabasca Pass Trail would further the government of Canada’s reconciliation efforts.
“Jasper park has some of the best country in the world and people can’t see it,” Groat has said.
In 2022, in partnership with the Alpine Club of Canada, Willson designed and built a bridge to facilitate access to Athabasca Pass Historic Site from the west (B.C.) side of the pass. And now he has secured approximately $364,000 to fund the installation of a 100-foot long, six foot wide, fibreglass replacement bridge to facilitate access from the east (Jasper) side.
But again and again, Jasper National Park has said thanks but no thanks.
“I appreciate your passion for this special area of the park, and the comprehensive proposal you have made…[but] this [decision] will ensure that the ecological integrity of the area will be maintained and visitor services will be in keeping with the offer provided in wilderness areas,” JNP’s letter says.
Willson suggests that logic is as inconsistent as the argument that Jasper National Park has used to justify their lack of interest in repairing the bridge.
“The first two times they said there wasn’t enough money. This time, JNP clearly states they don’t want people in the backcountry on this 200-year-old trail,” Willson said.
But instead of throwing his hands up, Willson is putting his head down.
“I’m not stopping,” he said. “This bridge will be built, even if we have to change superintendents.”
Bob Covey // email@example.com