River skating trail on thin ice

Winnipeggers are facing the prospect of a winter without the world's longest skating trail.

Winnipeggers are facing the prospect of a winter without the world's longest skating trail.

The nine-kilometre path along the Assiniboine River, from the national historic site at The Forks to Assiniboine Park, might not be created this year because the high water levels and related strong currents.

"We've got about four plans that we are developing right now. It's gonna take about another month to know what our options are," said Paul Jordan, chief operating officer with the Forks-North Portage Partnership Corp.

"But yeah, we're concerned about the high currents."

The water levels on the rivers are several feet above normal for this time of year and it's making the coming ice hard to predict.

The strong current could lead to drastically unveven ice that is too difficult to smooth out.

Or, a layer of ice could form and appear to be fine, but underneath there could be a large air pocket that could cause the trail to collapse.

The pocket would be created when the province activates the floodway to divert river water and reduce the levels in late winter to prepare for spring flooding.

The frozen layer would remain at the same height but the level of the flowing water below would drop.

Operate Floodway sooner: Jordan 

Jordan says Forks officials have repeatedly asked the province to operate the Floodway sooner, during the summer and fall, to lower the levels before freeze-up.

The province is studying the idea but Jordan said government officials have been doing studies for years and have made no decisions.

Meanwhile both the riverwalk path and the port where boats dock are under water — as they have been for much of the year — and officials are worried about the amount of damage the ice will cause.

"I guess if it freezes hard at this height it will be like that all winter, so we don't know what will happen," Jordan said.

"If it freezes at a certain point and they keep draining it, then we will get into all that ice collapse, so in about a month from now we will be able to start making decisions about what we'll do [about the skating trail]."

In 2008, the trail was named the longest natural ice skating surface in the Guinness World Records book.

While it might not be that long this year, there will be a place to skate, Jordan insisted — even if it's just a little loop.

"We will do something. No matter what, we'll get something in."