Ottawa's urban winter trail network expanding west

Ottawa's network of urban winter trails is set to expand again this winter thanks in large part to a big push by volunteer groomers in the city's west end.

New groomed trail will connect Andrew Haydon Park to March Road

The Britannia Winter Trail officially expands this winter west to Andrew Haydon Park, and east to Deschênes Rapids. (Judy Dudley/Britannia Winter Trail)

Ottawa's network of urban winter trails is set to expand again this winter thanks in large part to a big push by volunteer groomers in the city's west end.

Following a successful pilot project last year, the Ottawa West Winter Trail will make a 16-kilometre winter trail for cross-country skiers, snowshoers, fat bikers and hikers permanent, according to co-ordinator Roger Colbeck.

"People were just so happy," said Colbeck. "They said how great it was to have this in their own backyard since they can't get out to Gatineau Park."

The expansion means the west-end trail will now run the full length of Watts Creek, a multi-use pathway owned by the National Capital Commission that runs from Kanata's March Road in the west to Carling Avenue in the east, and will include several loops in the Greenbelt north of Highway 417.

Colbeck says volunteers, who are also members of the Kanata Nordic Ski Club, will groom the trail.

Roger Colbeck, who co-ordinates the Ottawa West Winter Trail, stands along the eastern section of Watts Creek, which will officially be added to the groomed trail. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Part of expanding network

Urban winter trails have steadily gained popularity in Ottawa following the 2016 launch of the Kichi Sibi (formerly SJAM) Winter Trail along the Ottawa River between the Canadian War Museum and Westboro Beach.

The number of winter trails has grown so much in recent years that volunteers came together to form the Urban Winter Trail Alliance, which includes groomed trails in Orléans, along the Ottawa River, and through Britannia Park. 

Adding the west-end trail to that alliance means residents, who previously had to travel further, will now have their own free access to a nearby winter trail, says Colbeck. 

"I think people were maybe feeling a bit left out when they saw everything going on at Kichi Sibi," he said. "And then when they saw the Britannia Trail happening and our trail happening, I think it really started bringing home the idea that there was this trail system that could maybe one day extend all across the city."

The newly expanded Ottawa West Winter Trail means users can ski, fat bike, snowshoe from Andrew Haydon Park in the east to March Road in the west. (Roger Colbeck/Ottawa West Winter Trail)

Britannia Trail also expanding

By crossing Carling Avenue, users of the west-end winter trail will be able to continue their journey along the existing Britannia Winter Trail, which will also officially expand this winter.

The new sections mean the western tip will reach Andrew Haydon Park, while the eastern end will reach Deschênes Rapids, according to Britannia Winter Trail board member Marlene Cross.

"It's amazing," said Cross. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if someday all the winter trails in the Urban Winter Trail Alliance would be connected?"

Britannia Winter Trail board member Marlene Cross is seen in Andrew Haydon Park where her trail has officially expanded west for the 2021-22 season. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Unfortunately, adds Cross, trail users won't soon be able to enjoy a seamless connection between the Britannia trail and its eastern neighbour, the Kichi Sibi trail.

The challenge is twofold: a section of the multi-use path west of Westboro Beach is butted against the traffic lanes of the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, meaning road plows would inevitably push snow and salt from the road onto the winter trail. Secondly, any attempt to use the southern side of the parkway would conflict with the ongoing construction of Ottawa's light-rail system.

The dream still lives on that one day winter trail users can easily cross the entire city, says Colbeck.

"We've looked at Scandinavia and we've said, 'We can do better than some of the countries that are known there for having all these trails,'" he said.

For the winter of 2021-22, the Britannia Winter Trail will connect Deschênes Rapids to the western edge of Andrew Haydon Park. (Britannia Winter Trail)