Submitted by Dave Adams –
Holy smokes! We did a proof-of-concept in the winter of 2015 of the SJAM and here we are today having concluded our third official season of the SJAM Winter Trail. Time flies. Who says winters are long, bleak and dull?
I think the trail has surprised us all on how well it has been adopted by the community and the scary reality is that there is no turning back. It is unconscionable to think of the Ottawa River multi-use pathway, or bike path, NOT having winter trail in the future.
Up to now, the SJAM had been considered an experiment and that is why Dovercourt (my representative) and the NCC originally settled on a three year agreement to let me show the potential of the trail. This term is now up and it is time to plan the future. There is no doubt we will continue to groom, but under a new agreement.
So, in hindsight, what have we learned? To start with, urban winter pathways are good. They make our city livable. They get people out and active in winter. Help people commute to work. Get them saying ‘hi’ to their neighbours at a time of year that folks typically become groundhogs. (Did you know, loneliness is the new smoking?)
We also know that our weather is changing, and freeze/thaw cycles are now common. Grooming ice is very difficult, but the good news is that it can be done and urban winter pathways can handle diverse weather better than say, ice rinks that need a very precise and consistent weather condition. We all recall that week in February where walking down the icy city sidewalks was treacherous, and it was a very proud moment in the season for the grooming team where we continued to groom and provide a safe place for people to recreate and stay active. I hope the City of Ottawa appreciates the public service that we provided.
Over the past three seasons, we also learned that we cannot proceed without public funding. Try as we might, and with all our fundraising efforts, we ran a deficit this season. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. Businesses have certainly stepped up with their sponsorships and the general public remains as generous as they have been since the beginning, but it wasn’t enough to balance our books.
And finally, we know that other communities want an SJAM of their own. And can you blame them? The National Capital Region is gifted with tons of greenspaces that lay vacant in winter, and so why not get some snow grooming on-site and make some trails?
So that is my summer – dreaming up plans for the future. Fortunately, I will have lots of help. For starters, I have an open relationship with the NCC and am always welcome to go “slum it” in their downtown offices chatting about ideas for winter. We have also formed a subcommittee with other communities that want to develop their own winter trail network. It is called the WTA, or Winter Trails Alliance, and is made up of Ski Heritage East, Rideau River, Kanata Nordic, and together we are working with city councillors to find ways the City of Ottawa can participate in the future; possibly in cooperation with the NCC.
See you next winter! If anything comes up that is important, I will post to social media but I try hard to limit my posts to give you a break from the bombardment of information I throw at you during winter. You can find a link to all of our social media channels at wintertrail.ca.
Groomer Dave Adams
SJAM Winter Trail Manager and Head Groomer