Winnipeg Trails breaks ground on more than 30 cross-country ski and walking loops in city neighbourhoods
MAKING TRAILS, MAKING CONNECTIONS
WINNIPEG’S winter sport enthusiasts have more places to go for a ski, snowshoe or hike now that Winnipeg Trails has broken ground on more than 30 cross-country ski and walking loops in neighbourhoods around the city.
“One of the most beautiful things about winter is the new trails that it opens up for people,” said executive director Anders Swanson.
“It basically creates bridges all over the city on a temporary basis. So it inspired us to see what we could do about increasing access to trails, at least for the winter, in places close to people’s homes.”
Planning for the extra trails began in July as Winnipeg Trails started thinking about what a second wave of COVID-19 cases and lockdown rules would mean for Winnipeggers this winter.
“The idea ultimately comes from the need for human beings to connect, and it turns out one of the few places we can do that has been outside,” Swanson said.
“We are in the business of community-building more than anything else. We do that by connecting people with safe and comfortable ways to be outside and to move so that we can see each other face to face.”
More than 30 sites are underway in neighbourhoods such as St. Boniface, Dufferin, Garden City and Tuxedo. Dozens more approved by the city are still to come.
“The whole point of this project was to make sure there was some winter fun near you for Winnipeggers; there are sites in every neighbourhood basically,” Swanson said. The trails are built and maintained by a team of volunteers, Swanson said. The crew can make three or four trails a day, and the sites come with benches and sculptures — built of snow, of course — for visitors to use to put on skis or sit for a cup of cocoa.
The trails are made by a machine Swanson describes as the “Swiss army knife of trail building.” It looks like a snowmobile cut in half, he said, and can be fitted with different attachments to carve out ski trails or pack snow for walking and biking. The broader Winterpeg project is designed to “spark a little joy” in the city, Swanson said. For those who may not be into skiing, there are opportunities to walk, bike, snowshoe, build snowmen or ice candles, among activities showcased on the organization’s website.
For those who want to try skiing for the first time, Winterpeg will offer a mobile ski library to take free ski rentals and guides to loops around the city.
“It goes hand in hand with Winterpeg and building the trails,” said Jenny Sawatzky, who runs the Icicle Garden, a gear library that has ski and snowshoe rentals.
“People who maybe don’t have access to a car or can’t afford it, show up and try some skis out.”
Though the Icicle Garden, based out of the Bicycle Garden storefront on Sherbrook Street, has been in operation all season, the new mobile option is intended to run events and encourage access to winter sports for all Winnipeggers.
Sawatzky said the gear library has been a huge success. The storefront has been busy every day, she said, and has had an influx of donations of both money and winter gear.
“Everybody has been very grateful that we opened. Feedback has been positive every time,” Sawatzky said. “Everyone’s been fairly generous.”
That ski library has been a major source of funding for the trail program: donations for rentals are funneled into the trail-making efforts. The Winterpeg team has received funding from the federal EcoCanada internship program and the City of Winnipeg’s wellness fund. Swanson noted city councillors have roundly supported the trail-building effort, and helped secure the $5,000 in municipal funding.
Swanson said the team at Winnipeg Trails and Winterpeg would love to see the entire city connected with ski and walking trails — and bike paths for the warmer seasons — so residents can enjoy time outside with ease year-round.
“There are some places where the people in the area already might have skis… and there are some areas in the city, for example, with a lot of newcomers to Canada from countries that may not have long winters, and they’re not as used to it,” said Swanson.
“We’re not expecting those to be as popular right away, but it’s one of the reasons why we’re bringing the mobile ski library out, so people get a chance to try.”
Swanson said his favourite part is the opportunity to watch people discover the joy of skiing.