After a century of being granted right-of-way across the land, Albertans are now prohibited from using Sheep Trail as a means of travelling between the Sheep and Elbow valleys, thus cutting off access to Rickert’s Pass, Burns Lake and numerous scrambling peaks. Parks have put up signs warning travellers of the situation.
The land is owned by P. Burns Resources and P. Burns Mines Ltd, collectively known as the Burnscos. They own and develop the lands in Alberta and British Columbia formerly owned by Senator Patrick Burns, a well known Calgary pioneer, who “was known as a man of few words but great generosity”. I don’t think he would be pleased with his beneficiaries’ intransigence.
The LinkedIn profile of the Burnscos’ Director and Corporate Secretary, Calgary lawyer Dean Burns, makes it clear that one of their goals is the “development and/or exploitation of the Burncos’ lands”. One cannot really blame them — it is their land! However, it appears the company has closed Sheep Trail to recreationists in order to pressure the government into some kind of financial settlement, and that really rankles. This area of the Sheep River Valley has been part of Kananaskis Country for almost 40 years.
As far as I can see, the Burnscos’ holding in the Sheep Valley has little practical value. I can’t imagine any Alberta Government, especially the current one, allowing the re-opening of the coal mine or any other kind of development in the headwaters of the Sheep River. It is one of the very few private land holdings left in Kananaskis Country and should have been expropriated many years ago.
The Alberta Government has been actively working on a solution — an offer to repair the flood damaged fire road and trail has been refused — and is looking at all options to resolve the current impasse. Unfortunately, the options are very limited. As you can see from the topo map, building a bypass trail up Cliff Creek then contouring across the hillside above the private land would be difficult and costly.
What can we do about it? Very little! We can express our displeasure to Burns Resources. We can ignore the closure on the assumption that they will not station security guards out there to check for hikers going to Rickert’s Pass. But they probably don’t care about a few hikers — they are making a point with the government. We can only hope that the government can negotiate a settlement that will satisfy both sides.