I strongly believe that history should be told as stories, so needless to say that when I was given an assignment this semester to create a podcast in my digital history class, I wanted to tell a story. I chose the story of a hiking trail that leads to nowhere.
Back in my undergrad, I took a course on the History of the Rocky Mountain Parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay), and I wrote my paper on what makes Kootenay National Park different from its neighbors. I grew up next to Kootenay, so it was easy for me to reflect how Kootenay feels different, but it’s not just a feeling. Kootenay doesn’t have the classic lake-front mountain getaway like Jasper Park Lodge or Lake Louise or Emerald Lake (Yoho). As the backcountry adventurer will tell you, there are plenty of places to go in Kootenay, but its only alpine hut blew up a few years back and was never replaced. There are other differences as well – the lack of a townsite and the scarcity of tour buses going through are two examples – and I was curious to explore why this is.
In my paper I traced the history of Kootenay and its relation to changing National Parks policies. The topic was a fascinating one for me, primarily as National Parks tend to be seen as natural, unchanging landscapes. What this particular course showed, and my paper reflected on, is instead the careful management that goes into National Parks. I traced the development of Kootenay as it went from a remote area for homesteading to a tourist landscape populated with camps and a townsite, and finally towards the park we see today where the focus is on wildlife preservation and the management of natural landscapes.
The history of Kootenay Park is a difficult one to tell, especially as many traces of its cultural history have been removed, but it is these missing elements that help illustrate just how much Kootenay has changed. I chose to center my story around the Kimpton Creek trail in Kootenay both because it paints such an odd picture and perfectly sums up these changes. Here is a trail that is clearly marked for hiking, but after a few kilometers, it suddenly stops in the middle of the trees. In the words of my father, it’s “anticlimactic”.
If you want to learn more, I encourage you to take a listen to the podcast. It’s only about thirteen minutes long, and it goes through a quick history of Canadian National Park Policy, an explanation of how Kootenay was created, and how Kootenay fits into the bigger parks question. It also answers the ultimate question of where a hiking trail leading to nowhere can possibly fit into all of this.
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