The roots of Trails Manitoba go back to the 1980’s, when a group of civil servants saw an opportunity for the development of recreational trails in the rail lines that were slated for abandonment in the mid-1980’s. Initially, the idea of trails was limited to a rails to trails concept. In the early 1990’s, some inventory studies were done for abandoned rail lines. Other recreational trail enthusiasts began to join the movement, although many of the abandoned lines were not acquired for recreational use.
During the early nineties, volunteers traveled in the province, promoting the idea of recreational trails. In 1992, the concept of the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) was conceived, and Trails Manitoba was approached in 1993 to become the official provincial trail council for the TCT. At the same time, Trails Manitoba incorporated as the Manitoba Recreational Trails Association (MRTA). Criteria for the development of the TCT in Manitoba was devised which would include not only abandoned rail lines, but also provincial parks, Wildlife Management Areas and important ethnic communities. In 1993, the MRTA gained charitable tax status.
In 1998, the first significant length of the TCT in Manitoba was registered; this was the Rossburn Subdivision Trail which was purchased from CN. Later in 1998, the TCT Foundation was granted federal funds as part of the Federal Millennium Project, to hire trail builders across the country to facilitate the registration, and/or building of the TCT. In Manitoba, these funds were used to hire an executive director for the MRTA.
In March 2000, the Government of Manitoba, as represented by the Minister of Culture, Heritage & Tourism, entered into an agreement with the MRTA. The purpose of the agreement was to provide for financial assistance to enable the MRTA to carry out and complete the Trans-Canada Trail (TCT) Millennium Signature Project in Manitoba. In that agreement, the Government of Manitoba provided a $2,125,000 financial contribution to the MRTA for the construction of Manitoba’s portion of the TCT as well as for the development of other trails. The MRTA would be responsible for managing the development of Manitoba’s 1300km portion of the TCT, as well as the future development of connecting and non-connecting spur trails, construction of pavilions and trail markers, and the production of interpretive materials. As well, the regional trail associations of the MRTA would be responsible for raising $1,350,000 in matching contributions for TCT and non-TCT trail development. The total funding for the project, including matching contributions, would be $3,575,000. The agreement is to continue until all undertakings and obligations for the MRTA have been fully met and completed. In March 2000 the project was expected to require three years to complete. Since that time, the project has been extended to current.
In 2013 the MRTA adopted the operating name “Trails Manitoba”.