Kananaskis still on long road to recovery, after 2013 flood

CALGARY- Thanks to an army of volunteers and millions in government money, Kananaskis is slowly healing after suffering immense damage in the 2013 flood.

For the past year, the place many people go to to rejuvenate has been under repairs itself.

Beginning June 20th, 2013, over 300 millimeters of rain fell onto above average snow pack. Within hours, mountain trickles turned to angry creeks and raging rivers, damaging roughly half the 1200 kilometers of trails in the park.

“It was painful right to your core. It was like watching everything you love get destroyed,” says Derek Ryder, co-chair of the Friends of Kananaskis.

Ryder and hundreds of other volunteers have logged 5,000 hours hauling rock, ripping trees out of log jams, and heaving footbridges back where they used to be, in some cases with their bare hands.

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“Our 12 hundred members basically formed an army to start helping parks try to restore the place,” he says.

They’ve managed to rebuild 40 of 600 kilometers of damaged trails, focusing on the most-loved routes and connector trails that provide access to the most areas.

Creeks and rivers in the park also chewed highway 40 and secondary roads to bits between the Trans-Canada Highway and Longview. Where there were bridges, only guard rails were left hanging, the supports and roadways washed downstream.

“I think we all realized that K-country would never be quite the same,” says Michael Roycroft, an area manager in Kananaskis.

But amazingly, many roads were rebuilt within days of the flood. Front country campgrounds were mostly untouched, so evacuees picked up their trailers and returned to their favourite sites by August long weekend.

Back-country campgrounds took a much worse hit so many bridges on the trails were washed out.  About half are still closed. One of them, Lillian Lake, was completely wiped out.

Some day use areas are still closed in the Highwood Pass area. While the viewpoint is safe to use again at Elbow Falls, some of the paths and picnic spots washed away. A favourite family fishing hole called Allen Bill Pond is no more. The flooded Elbow River scoured it off the landscape, leaving a rocky riverbed and heaps of roots and trees behind.

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Alberta Parks is still undecided on whether the two sites will be rebuilt, and how.

“We’ve hired some planners, they’re currently working on what we’re going to do there. At this point we don’t have a firm direction in terms of those two sites,” says Roycroft.  There is also no decision on whether the destroyed Kananaskis golf course will be rebuilt.

Parks has armoured creeks and rivers in Kananaskis against future flooding.

Four million people are inspired by the wonder of the mountain playground each year. There are still hundreds of kilometers of trails and dozens of bridges to fix. Volunteers are adding muscle.

“The trails create that wonder,” Ryder says.

“We know that and we love it and we love the space and we just want to make sure it stays on for a long, long time.”

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The Alberta government set aside $60 million for flood recovery work in the park, to be completed by 2017.