Legal and Policy-Related Definitions and Applications



    Ontario Trails Strategy: working definition of trail infrastructure: “trail infrastructure” includes all single and shared-use outdoor designated trail networks in urban, rural and wilderness settings that are used for recreation, active living, utilitarian and tourism purposes including but not limited to:

         --Trails with natural (e.g. hiking, cross-country skiing) or treated surfaces (e.g.) bicycle greenways/paths, lanes)

         --On-road bicycle routes

         --Walkways, boardwalks and sidewalks

         --Trails located in transportation and utility corridors

         --Access roads (i.e. for forestry and mining) “designated” for trail use

         --Trails that are integrated with public transit services

--Waterway routes (e.g. along designated Canadian heritage rivers including the French, Humber , Mattawa, Rideau and Thames Rivers ) and

portage routes.


Walkers, hikers, joggers, cyclists, inline skaters, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, mountain bikers, snowshoers, dogsledders and users of snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, 4x4s, and dirt bikes enjoy land-based trails. Water trailways are used by canoeists, kayakers, etc.


Some trails are intended for one purpose only. The Bruce Trail, for example, is a public footpath with off-road sections closed to all vehicles. Other trails are intended to be used in a variety of ways. The Trans-Canada Trail is designed to accommodate five core activities:

hiking/walking, biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.


(Active 2010 Ontario Trails Strategy, Ministry of Health Promotion, 2005, p. 6)[1].pdf



    (Ontario) There is no Trails Act in Ontario yet, although there is likely work being done on that with the Ontario Trails Strategy, an inter-Ministerial project. The Trans-Canada Trail Foundation is pursuing the creation of federal trails legislation. “The National Recreation Program [in the United States] offers a template” (Parks and Recreation Ontario, Ontario Parks Association, and Ontario Trails Council: A Strategic Partnership Working to Make a Difference, October 4, 2006, p. 7, & p. 26, retrieved online from


    Nova Scotia Trails Act, R.S.N.S. 1989, c. 476. Last updated November 2006


“The purpose of this Act is to

(a) establish and operate trails on Crown lands and over watercourses for recreational use and enjoyment;

(b) establish trails on privately owned lands, with the prior consent of the owners or occupiers;

(c) reduce the liability of the owner or the occupier of privately owned lands where consent is given to designate a trail;

(d) establish and operate trails, either by the Department or through agreement with persons, including municipalities, clubs, organizations and other such bodies; and

(e) provide for effective management of trails and the regulation of trail user activities to ensure quality user experiences.


“‘Trail’ means a trail designated by the Governor in Council for recreational purposes pursuant to the provisions of this Act

The Minister may refer matters relating to parks, trails and the recreation policy of the Department to the Natural Resources Advisory Council established pursuant to the Natural Resources Advisory Council Act and the Council shall advise the Minister on such matters. R.S., c. 476, s. 4; 1993, c. 9, s. 10.

“The Governor in Council, upon the recommendation of the Minister, may designate a trail over Crown land or, with the written consent of the landowner or occupier, over privately owned land.”




    (Alberta) What control does the provincial government currently have over the development, maintenance, and use of trails?

There is no legislation defining the standards of construction, maintenance, or operation specifically for trails on private or public lands in Alberta. On Crown lands, provision for proper management of public lands, including water crossings, falls under the general provisions of the Public Lands Act. The Public Lands Act specifies conditions and terms of use for such things as staying in designated areas, disposal of garbage, surface disturbance, and fencing of Crown lands. The Municipal Government Act gives municipalities authority to establish bylaws for general municipal purposes, including ensuring proper drainage/culverts, collection of garbage, and land use. Off-highway vehicles are regulated under the provincial Off-Highway Vehicle Act, while the Water Act sets standards for bridge and culvert crossings and their impact on watercourses. The provincial government is exploring the option of legislation or a Provincial Trails Act which would specify the standards of trail management, reduce landowner liability, provide a mechanism for defining and enforcing suitable trail behavior, and ensure trails are properly maintained in perpetuity.

(Alberta Trail Net Information Centre, retrieved online from, February 2, 2007.

         Prince Edward Island: Trails Act, R.S.P.E.I. 1988, c. T–4.1. Last updated May 2006.

‘“Trail” means the trail designated as the Confederation Trail pursuant to subsection 4(1) and includes any other trail designated under subsection 4(2)…The purpose of this Act is to provide for the establishment and operation of trails on Crown lands for recreational use and enjoyment.’


“This provincial Trails Act came into effect in 1995. Subsequently, the province promoted public recreational use of the former CNR right of way under the name ‘Confederation Trail.’ This trail has also been incorporated into and promoted as part of a national network of trails known as the ‘Trans Canada Trail.’”


For an example of a court case that makes use of this legislation, click on the latter hyperlink. There, J. Bruce Melville details the proceedings at the P.E.I. Supreme Court of the P.E.I. Attorney General versus a group of landowners who owned land adjacent to the Confederation Trail, which was formerly the railroad operated by the Canadian National Railway until railroad operations were abandoned there in 1989. The landowners were active farmers who were not happy with the trail and trail users passing through their lands. Some of them “blockaded the trail with logs, excavations and barbed wire fences. They harassed and threatened trail users and government employees.” As a result the province applied to the court for an injunction intended to halt these activities, and eventually won the case.

         (New Brunswick) Land-title disputes that affect rails-to-trails projects (and trails in general) are common. J. Bruce Melville details another case, this time in New Brunswick, that considers the legal status of an old railway right of way following abandonment of railroad operations. This time the results were completely different: “it was found that upon abandonment, title to the right of way lands reverted to the original title from which the lands had been taken. The different results are totally dependent upon the wording of the legislation in effect at the time when the railway rights of way were expropriated.”

Vihvelin v. St. John (City), (2000), 71 L.C.R. 109.


    From The National Trails System Act, amended Dec. 21 2006.

National recreation trails, established as provided in section 4 of this Act, which will provide a variety of outdoor recreation uses in or reasonably accessible to urban areas.

National scenic trails, established as provided in section 5 of this Act, which will be extended trails so located as to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of the nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, or cultural qualities of the areas through which such trails may pass. National scenic trails may be located so as to represent desert, marsh, grassland, mountain, canyon, river, forest, and other areas, as well as landforms which exhibit significant characteristics of the physiographic regions of the Nation.

National historic trails, established as provided in section 5 of this Act, which will be extended trails which follow as closely as possible and practicable the original trails or routes of travel of national historic significance. Designation of such trails or routes shall be continuous, but the established or developed trail, and the acquisition thereof, need not be continuous onsite. National historic trails shall have as their purpose the identification and protection of the historic route and its historic remnants and artifacts for public use and enjoyment. Only those selected land and water based components of a historic trail which are on federally owned lands and which meet the national historic trail criteria established in this Act are included as Federal protection components of a national historic trail. The appropriate Secretary may certify other lands as protected segments of an historic trail upon application from State or local governmental agencies or private interests involved if such segments meet the national historic trail criteria established in this Act and such criteria supplementary thereto as the appropriate Secretary may prescribe, and are administered by such agencies or interests without expense to the United States.

Connecting or side trails, established as provided in section 6 of this Act, which will provide additional points of public access to national recreation, national scenic or national historic trails or which will provide connections between such trails.

    Recreational Trails Program Legislation. Retrieved from, updated Jan. 2007.

RECREATIONAL TRAIL.--The term "recreational trail" means a thoroughfare or track across land or snow, used for recreational purposes such as-- A. pedestrian activities, including wheelchair use;

B. skating or skateboarding;

C. equestrian activities, including carriage driving;

D. nonmotorized snow trail activities, including skiing;

E. bicycling or use of other human powered vehicles;

F. aquatic or water activities; and

G. motorized vehicular activities, including all terrain vehicle riding, motorcycling, snowmobiling, use of off-road light trucks, or use of other off road motorized vehicles.

   There is no universal legal definition of a trail in the United States. One of the best, used for national recreation trails, is: ... a travel way established either through construction or use which is passable by at least one or more of the following, including but not limited to: foot traffic, stock, watercraft, bicycles, in-line skates, wheelchairs, cross-country skis, off-road recreation vehicles such as motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs, and 4-wheel drive vehicles. (National Trails System, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, retrieved online from




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Last updated by Wesley Found on September 28, 2011.