Manitoba

Forks river trail likely won't open at all this winter due to challenging conditions

If you had your heart set on skating on The Forks river trail this winter, prepare to have it broken.

High river levels, frazil ice have made it impossible for The Forks to prepare the skating trail

Challenging weather conditions this year mean the river trail at The Forks might not open at all this winter season. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

If you had your heart set on skating on The Forks river trail this winter, prepare to have it broken.

The high river levels this fall, plus frazil ice —  a slushy mix of crystals that clings to things like logs, branches and larger blocks of ice — have created a challenging year for those who groom the popular skating trail, and it may be the first time since 2000 that it won't open at all.

"The way that the river came up in the fall with that fall flood and the way that it's slowly going down, it's not made conditions great or even really amenable to creating a river trail this year," said Clare MacKay, vice-president of strategic initiatives at The Forks, a downtown Winnipeg destination.

Even though the river levels have dropped closer to what they normally are in winter, that's causing its own problems, she said.

Jagged chunks of ice line the edge of the frozen muddy waters at The Forks. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

"As it is dropping, which it is doing, it's leaving behind gigantic — like insurmountable — ice chunks on the banks," she said.

"So currently we can't get equipment or people down onto the river."

The Forks has been creating the river trail on the Red and Assiniboine rivers for decades and every year has been different, MacKay said. Some years the trail has extended to 10 kilometres, others it has been only one kilometre long.

If the winter trail doesn't open, it will be the first year without a river path in two decades. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

To try to make up for the lack of the trail, The Forks plans to add additional amenities on land, including extending the on-land trails, to make it as robust an experience for people as possible, MacKay said.  

"We understand that it's disappointing that people won't be able to go down to the river in that way this year, but you know, there's always next year — we are guaranteed a winter next year."

"It's not very cool," Lucy Rust said while skating on the rink at The Forks Tuesday.

Rust moved to St. Boniface, in part, because of its proximity to the river trail, which they have used in previous years to save time on travelling from their new neighbourhood to Osborne Village.

It makes a huge difference — five minutes on skates compared to 30 minutes on foot, Rust said.

"It's a bit heartbreaking for me."

Lucy Rust is disappointed their preferred mode of winter transportation — the river path — probably won't be an option. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Originally from the city, Natalia Lebedin lives in Ohio now. Her family made their first winter trip to Winnipeg since she moved away.

It would've been their first time on the river trail.

"I was sad to hear," Lebedin said. 

Even without a river trail, the Lebedin family is just thrilled to be able to go skating. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Ice dreams crushed, but not dissolved

The Festival du Voyageur has had to skirt around the situation on the river.

The festival has hosted an ice bar on the river trail for the past two years, which won't be possible this time around, its communications director said.

Nicolas Audette said he's not concerned the lack of a river trail will severely affect turnout or experience at the festival.

Nicolas Audette, the communications director for Festival du Voyageur, says there's no shortage of places for Winnipeggers to skate and partake in other outdoor activities this winter. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

"Winnipeggers really enjoy our festival, and they come out regardless of the weather, usually," he said.

As a skater himself, Audette suggests locals and tourists will find other creative ways to be active outdoors.

"It is a bit deceiving, but mother nature is unpredictable," he said.

"There's always next year."

Watch the sketchy ice conditions at The Forks:

Jagged ice, crushed dreams

CBC News Manitoba

2 years ago
0:35
The high river levels this fall, plus frazil ice, have created a challenging year for those who groom the popular skating trail, and it may be the first time since 2000 that it won't open at all. 0:35

With files from Patrick Foucault

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