Access Through the Sheep River Headwaters Cut Off by Landowner

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.


Photo: Cole Warawa

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.


Pre-flood view east along Sheep Trail from Burns Mine toward Gibraltar Mountain.

18 comments… add one
  • Cat May 27, 2019, 9:13 am

    Thanks for the update Tony, I havent been back there since the flooding if I end up getting back in there I will let you know how it is. I had thought about contacting the company and asking for permission to pass through on the trail.

  • Tony Daffern May 25, 2019, 12:04 pm

    Cat. The unofficial word is that the owners have no objection to people using the trails. Their spat is with the Alberts Government. Having said that, the trail is reported to be in very poor condition with many washouts.

  • Cat May 25, 2019, 12:07 am

    Any updates on this trail and if the ban on going through the private land will be lifted anytime soon? Would love to be able to ride from blue rock to mist creek again.

  • Tony Daffern Sep 30, 2018, 10:03 am

    Thanks for the update David.

  • David Sep 29, 2018, 11:53 pm
  • David Sep 29, 2018, 5:54 pm

    I can confirm that the cabin is still there as of mid-Summer 2017. At no point did any signs delineate the property boundary or prevent access, and the only signage I saw was the older signage speaking to no camping, no fires, etc.

    I can’t imagine the owners would be able to get in to demolish it since then – it would cost more to get the equipment back there than would be worth it. The trails are truly in terrible condition.

    I did pursue a FOIP request with the government around this after being given the run around from the Ministry. I did find an email thread with a Burn Resource’s representative, but not the actual details of the conversations that took place. I did not hear back when I reached out to one of these individuals.

    I will try to circle back here shortly (I am away from my usual computer) with some images, and the FOIP request!

  • Tony Daffern Aug 25, 2018, 10:48 am

    As far as I know the Burns Cabin is still there unless the owners have demoloshed it recently. See Sue Hampton’s 2016 comment.

  • Jim Williams Aug 25, 2018, 9:08 am

    Firstly, as it is private land, I know I have no right being there without permission.
    Second, as a respecting horse rider/hiker, I have followed the old road/Sheep River waterway and would graciously turn back if owners requested.
    Having said that, I was recently hiking through looking for the cabin and as it’s been 15 years since last there, I didn’t see it. Does anyone know for sure if it survived 2013 flood?

  • Tony Daffern Dec 2, 2017, 5:41 pm

    Thanks for the update David. I would have thought that the government would want to keep the old road open for access in case of fire. I assumed that was why they built the new heavy-duty bridge. I suppose that if the valley was burning, the fire crews would buldoze their way through, but this takes precious time.

  • David Nov 29, 2017, 7:05 am

    Travelling in the area this summer, I did not actually come across any signage on the property border informing of its use restriction or closure; I had to rely on GPS data with maps to know the private property borders. I did come across an older sign that spoke to the specific conditions of using the land (no fires, no camping, etc.)

    Only saw the sign notifying of the access restriction at the Sheep Trailhead (and spoke about it with some enforcement officers who seemed equally irritated by the situation as I).

    That said the trail is in terrible, terrible shape just past the first (and as far as I know only) bridge. Hypothetically speaking, one would need to bushwack through most of the Burnscos land to get through to the Tombstone Junction.

    I’ve written to the Minister of Environment & Parks (Phillips) on the matter and I’m sure more letters speaking to this matter would not hurt.

  • dave Nov 18, 2017, 7:45 am

    Well Norb you can write what ever you like on a sign the mountains dont care , the trees still grow the rivers still flow and when all the stupid people that think they are important are long gone the mountains will just carry on being mountains. people look after the land they dont own the land 2 very different things.

  • Norb Jan 6, 2017, 5:46 pm

    Well, all of you give me your home address and i’ll walk all over your property. Would you like that? Think before you complain. This is private property, as is alot of property in the countryside coast to coast, farmland, pasture, in town, on a mountain etc. You are not to go there.

  • dave Dec 25, 2016, 1:39 pm

    Some people are very childish if the government dont give me what I want I will stamp my feet and close the trail, the mountains are millions of years old and dont care who owns them. in time the people will go and the mountains will remain, If I needed to go that way for some reason I would still go , people are only temporary guardians of the land , the mountains dont care who Owns them and neither do I.

  • PGR Aug 19, 2016, 1:37 pm

    I don’t think the Landowner can stop fishermen from walking up the river’s course?

  • Sue Hampton Jul 2, 2016, 11:14 pm

    It has been a busy summer so far getting ready for trips in the hills with our old trail riding buddies. The decades of enjoyment spent running trails west of Blue Rock will always be treasured. At this time, the savage flood from a handful of years ago has ripped apart the road and made a casual trail ride into a work project. Due to spinal fusions and internal organ repairs, my little pony and I haven’t been out since 2011. The crew left the trucks today anticipating some new changes. However what they saw was the completed Bridge over the Sheep and that was about it. Sad to report that a bunch of bush whacking is done to get thru so make sure you have a long sleeved shirt with you!! They got all the way to Burn’s Cabin and first eye saw the front door has been taken down and replaced with plywood. Sad to think that they couldn’t sign the guestbook or drop off a few cans of food. It’s been a shelter for many of us In a hail storm or just when you needed a rest. I hope that some agreement can be made so the cabin is preserved and nature enthusiasts can continue use hiking around the lands that are there. Oh if they do it right, smiles will be seen on everyone’s face.
    Someday soon I will ride again the see some of my favourite places on earth.
    For now, I will listen to the stories and look they the pictures that come up?

  • Gillean Daffern Jun 26, 2016, 5:19 pm

    For a few years before the closure I was getting reports of unpleasant encounters at Dennings Cabin, the people staying there— often cited as friends of the Burns family— being unnecessarily rude and uncivil to hikers passing by on the trail. Now of course, with the trail being in the state it’s in, nobody can get there.

  • Tony Daffern Jun 22, 2016, 12:52 pm

    No I don’t. As I stated the land is really of no practical value to them. I’m not sure if the government wants the road repaired as a fireroad. Apparently there is no agreement for government access through the land. I wonder if there is any agreement with Burns Resources for motorized access to their land from Bluerock. The government has recently repaired the road west from Bluerock and put in an expensive-looking new bridge.

  • GMJ Jun 20, 2016, 3:17 pm

    That is very annoying. Do you know what kind of settlement they are looking for with the government?

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