Blazed by the trails

Winnipeg family thrilled to use city’s well-hidden network of off-the-beaten paths

By: Shamona Harnett

Janice Lukes has flown to the most exotic places on Earth. And although the Winnipeg mother of three’s globetrotting days are over, her past travels can’t compete with the adventures she experiences every day in the unlikeliest of places — on her own city’s pathways.

Most citizens here don’t know much about the Winnipeg’s trails — hidden wilderness gems that meander through river-bottom forests, wind through open fields and snake along abandoned rail beds.

But Lukes, her husband and her sons — eight-year-old triplets — walk, cycle and play on many of them. And they’re always seeking out new ones.

Their latest fascination? The Yellow Ribbon Greenway Trail, a 5.5-kilometre stretch of pathway located in a remote section of St. James.

There’s lots to see on this trail, including an outdoor warplane museum and a creek full of frogs. But the best part of the trail for the family are the low-flying airplanes they get to see touching down at James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.

"You can touch the fence where the runway is," says Lukes, one of the city’s leading trail advocates and a member of the province’s Active Transportation Advisory Group. "You stand on the trail and you can see these fat-bellied planes come in and land. It’s fascinating. My kids were blown away by that. And I was blown away by it."

Her voice inflects upwards when she talks about her latest trail discovery.

"It’s a really obscure location that no one would have gone to before because there was no road. There was nothing around it!"

Lukes says it was two decades ago when some forward- thinking city officials came up with the idea to build a trail system in Winnipeg — one whose legs would would eventually connect together. Then, the city had only scattered bits and pieces of trail that really didn’t go anywhere.

Today, trail advocates are closer than ever to realizing their dream of a Winnipeg full of people using their own physical power to get to from point A to point B along a connected trail system.

Wander onto city trails on a summer day and you can see walkers, runners, cyclists, in-line skaters, parents pushing their babies in strollers as well as people in wheelchairs. Some are commuting to a specific place.

Others are just enjoying a deep breath of nature.

To date, the Winnipeg Trails Association lists nearly 40 trails. Some are more connected than others.

In the last five years, Lukes says, more than $40 million has been spent on trails and cycling infrastructure around Winnipeg — $20 million just last year alone.

Of course, many would argue that the money would be better spent elsewhere.

But to Lukes, the health benefits are worth the price tag.

 "If I don’t keep my kids mobile, what are they going to do?" says Lukes, the St. Norbert resident who has advocated for trails for nine years. "It’s so easy to turn the TV on. It’s so easy to let them sit in front of this stuff.

"I think what’s good about the trails are that (they are) free. You need a pair of runners. Trails fit people’s schedules and they fit people’s budgets. And they cost peanuts to build compared to the roadways."

Here are the basics you need to know about Winnipeg’s trails. This is the first in a series of Healthy Living stories about our growing trail system:

What’s the purpose of Winnipeg’s trails?

Trail advocates want Winnipeggers walking, running, cycling, in-line skating, skipping and wandering down city trails. Ideally, the trails will help Winnipeggers become more active and, therefore, fitter. (According to a Active Transportation Advisory Group report, 55 per cent of Manitoba’s people are overweight or obese. Meanwhile, 45 per cent of Manitobans are considered inactive.

Trail proponents hope the trails’ increasing connectivity make them a viable, safe way for people to get from one neighbourhood to the other free from car traffic.

How many trails are in Winnipeg?

"It depends on what you define as a trail. There are many bits and pieces which are too small to have an official name," says Lukes. The Winnipeg Trails Association has mapped out 38 city trails. Many trails are outfitted with signs that depict points of interest, etc.

How is the trail system organized?

In 1993, the city came up with the idea to divide the city into six parkways — essentially consisting of land along both sides of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. The goal is to hook up the parkways to form a continuous trail system. This web of parkways joins one park to another. Trails mainly curve around the riverbanks and, when necessary, wind onto residential streets. The riverwalk at the Forks, for example is part of the North Winnipeg Parkway. It, like other trails in the city, is partially under water due to flooding.

There are also several community trails that are not part of the parkway system. These trails generally thrive thanks to the dedication of community volunteers who lobby on behalf of these neighbourhood trails.

Monkey trails are unofficial trails not sanctioned by the city. Adventurers tend to like these trails because they wind up and down along the edge of riverbanks. "You have to be a monkey to go on them," explains Lukes.

What is the Trans Canada Trail?

A project the federal government touts as the world’s longest network of trails. Today, more than 15,500 kilometres worth of Trans Canada trail has been developed nationwide, 1,400 kilometres of which is in the wilds of rural Manitoba.

Is there a way for the city to profit from its trails?

Advocates say Winnipeg’s trails will attract tourists and lead to growth in the city’s economy. We may already be profiting from our trails, according to Brandon Bertram, an employee at Woodcock Cycle Works on St. Mary’s Road. He says he often rents bikes to visitors who seem more eager to explore city trails than Winnipeggers are. "They come in asking for good places to ride, that kind of thing. Not a whole lot of people from the city come in for that type of advice," says Bertram.

How can you find out how to get to various Winnipeg trails?

Log onto the Winnipeg Trails Association website. It’s located at The site contains maps and detailed information about city trails.

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