Making the day a magical journey

East of Edmonton in the second weekend of February, the sun is not more than half-way above the horizon. It casts its shadow on open snow-covered fields, and attempts to peek through the leafless forest at skiers racing on a track.

The skiers glide over the trail. Swishing their poles, they gracefully dodge wipeouts, and recover from their own wipeouts.

They slide up to food stations, flush-faced, sweaty, and ravenous. The skiers refuel with oranges, hot drinks, and energizing cheer from the volunteers. Then they’re off again.

As they approach the finish line, there’s raucous applause. Washing over each skier is a personal wave of relief, pride, and gratitude.

The Legend of the Birkebeiners

Skiing Birchlegs Crossing the Mountain with the Royal Child
Skiing Birchlegs Crossing the Mountain with the Royal Child. The Ski Museum. Holmenkollen, Oslo, Norway.

The race commemorates a critical historic journey made in Norway in the winter of 1206. In the midst of civil war, members of the Birkebein, a rebel movement, skied over mountain passes and through forests for a perilous 55 kilometers, carrying to safety the infant prince who would become the nation’s king and bring peace.

Since 1985, the legend of the Birkebeiners has been relived each year in the Canadian Birkebeiner Festival. A family-friendly event, it’s attended by thousands, from ages 9 to 90, from elite athletes to everybody else.

It’s one of only three Birkebeiner Loppets (recreational events) in the world. And the Waskahegan Trail Association has been a major participant since day one.

Last Chance for food and encouragement

We operate the “Last Chance” Food Station at Meadow Shelter within the Blackfoot Recreational Area. Every year is as much fun as the year before. To give you the skier’s perspective:

The volunteers are a fabulous, fun-loving crew who brave the cold to support all the skiers. Food and drink are provided but it is the joyful noise and moral support they provide for the skiers that makes the day a magical journey through a stunning winter landscape.– Anne Bradley, skier.

This year’s Festival is February 9-11 but the work we do is on February 10, the day of the race.

We would love to have more volunteers. Your family members and friends are welcome, too.

If you would like to volunteer or if you have any questions about it, you can reply to this email or contact Rob Faulds (

To discover more about the festival, visit the Canadian Birkebeiner website at

Here’s an entertaining 10-minute retrospective made in 2013 to commemorate the Birkie’s 25th anniversary

Where would we be without Stan

The Waskahegan Trail was conceived as a centennial project by Fred Dorward, backed by the Oil Capital Kiwanis, and widely supported by the civic and provincial groups, including Lieutenant Governor Grant MacEwan.

There was no shortage of enthusiasm for the project. But we all know that the Trail wouldn’t have gone anywhere if it was not for Stan Skirrow.

Stan Skirrow and the building of Low's BridgeThis year, we aimed to have Stan and his accomplishments recognized by nominating him for a 2017 Recreation Volunteer Recognition Award. The award, which is given by Alberta Culture and Tourism to only four Albertans each year, is exclusive and prestigious.

To pass the first gate, we obtained the endorsement of the Director of River Valley and Horticultural Facilities at the City of Edmonton. That was easily done. At the second gate we submitted two essays detailing Stan’s accomplishments and why we thought he should receive the award.

Stan didn’t make the top four, but he did receive acknowledgement from Alberta Culture and Tourism.

We think of Stan every time we linger at Stan’s Bench overlooking one of the most picturesque valleys on the trail. Here’s an opportunity to get acquainted with Stan’s work and thank him for all he has done.

This is one of the essays that was part of the nomination:

Stan Skirrow did more than anybody else to develop and advance the Waskahegan Trail, a unique 300 km resource built mostly on private land made available through the generosity of landowners. He obtained landowner permissions when everyone else was afraid to ask, and set the foundation for these partnerships-in-faith that continue to this day.

Stan wrote the trail guidebook in his friendly, informal manner, that goes beyond giving directions and pointing out landmarks. He included a great deal of material about the settler families, historical events, and the region’s geological history. His descriptions enable hikers on the trail to get maximum appreciation of the land they walk on.

Stan organized and participated in trail building and trail maintenance. He also organized and led free Sunday guided hikes, enabling people of all ages to spend the day with us walking in the country and observing nature first-hand in areas that they wouldn’t have access to any other way.

Long-time members of the Waskahegan Trail Association recall the very warm welcome he gave to each new member and his genuine interest in each and every one of them.

Whereas the initial volunteers, notably Fred Dorward and the Oil Capital Kiwanis, were the spark, Stan Skirrow was the engine that drove the Waskahegan Trail for over 30 years. Through his direct efforts and into the present, the trail is visited by residents and visitors to Edmonton, Leduc, Wetaskiwin, Camrose, Fort Saskatchewan, and points in between.

It takes a lot of volunteer effort to keep the trail in good shape and available for the public’s enjoyment, while also maintaining the trust and cooperation of landowners. From the moment Stan retired as a school-teacher, he made the Waskahegan Trail his full-time hobby. Stan deserves this award because without his persistence and dedication, the Waskahegan Trail would not be thriving as it does today.

Across the Board Part 4: Permissions Director

Old Trail Marker at Hastings Lake

One of the marvels of the Waskahegan Trail was how we were able to get permission from so many private individuals to build trails on their land.

It was a slow start. In the late 60’s, the hardest task was getting out and approaching landowners.

But once Stan Skirrow got involved, everything took off. As he tells it in the Waskahegan Trail Guidebook, “It was found that farm people didn’t get into a dreadful fit when you made a request of them. It was found that for every NO, there are many YESes and that there are many fine chats and cups of coffee. Farm people, after all, are special.”

Stan insisted that all agreements would be verbal. This meant we would always have to earn the privilege of ongoing permission.

Stan also built long term friendships with landowners and their families. He visited them regularly, and even attended their funerals. As a result, their generosity and trust continued over the years as land was divided and sold or passed on to younger generations.

In short, the trail has momentum.

When land is sold and we discover we have new landowners, it’s almost always a positive situation. One landowner told us, “When we bought this property we were thrilled to discover that we were part of the Waskahegan Trail network.”

The Permissions Director works with Trail Maintenance and other volunteers to address landowner concerns and find solutions—such as our recent signage improvements. Sometimes communication starts with us, like when we need to ask for permission to reroute a trail.

Landowners get in touch with us either through our website’s Contact page or by posting a message on our Facebook page. But us contacting them is sometimes more convoluted. We keep records of land descriptions and owner information, but when land changes hands, we don’t always know about it right away. Usually a land title search or a visit is all it takes to discover a new landowner and update our records.

Duties of the Permissions Committee Chair

  • Be a single point of contact for landowners having questions or concerns.
  • Visit landowners—accompanied by another member—as required.
  • Ensure that the records of landowners and site descriptions are up to date.
  • Report to board meetings.

The only requirement is the ability to attend most meetings.

Come for a Visit

Why not visit the next board meeting? It’s the best way to find out what we’re all about.
If you have any questions about the duties of the Permissions Director, JoAnne or Karen will be happy to talk to you.

Read about other board positions:

Part 3: Hike Coordinator
Part 2: Trail Maintenance Coordinator
Part 1: Membership Secretary