With a vision to preserve railway history in the area, East Central Alberta Heritage Society aims to restore a former line linking Stettler with Red Willow and Donalda.
“We are about two-thirds of the way finished on Phase 1 from Stettler to Red Willow,” said Bob Willis, the volunteer administrator for the society.
The group was established in 1997 to restore the old line between Stettler and Donalda that was removed that year.
Each phase encompasses about 10 miles of rail, with the first phase fully paid in 2010 with federal funding of $2.8 million and $150,000 from the provincial government.
“Phase 1 of the project is fully funded,” Willis said.
Now, the society hopes a $2,500 donation from ATCO Electric last week will get the second phase on track and gain momentum with other financial support.
“We’re looking to use what money we have to get the best value we can,” said society president Norma Leslie.
All signs show some materials available to begin to extend north in the Red Willow-Donalda stage.
“We will likely not see massive federal funding again and from the provincial government,” Willis said.
While the project remains on track, the society was happy to see another component along the extended railway was finished.
“Part of that funding was designated to create linear parks,” Leslie said.
Complete with washrooms and picnic tables, linear parks are located in Edberg, Meeting Creek, Big Valley, Rumsey and Rowley.
“We consulted all owners of adjacent properties and we did not locate a park where there was objection,” Willis said.
As a result, Donalda doesn’t have a linear park.
“Now, we have to get the word out about these wonderful parks for people to visit,” Leslie said.
“In partnership with Buffalo Lake Naturalists Club, we also installed 500 bird houses in these parks.”
When the full link is completed, the rail will be ready to provide railway tours by Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions or another company, Willis said.
“It became a project as a way to add a heritage tourism component to the village of Donalda.”
That was just like it was years ago when the local tourism train operated in the area.
“Alberta Prairie did travel to Donalda and it was a big attraction,” Leslie said.
Then, the line was removed by Rail America, which owned the property and considered it uneconomical, she said.
Work on the current line has been methodical, as the society is required to ensure that wildlife habitat and vegetation are protected, which Willis and the society fully support as part of the federal funding.