By Charlie Senack
With snow on the ground, it won’t be long before winter is in full force. The Sir John A. Macdonald (SJAM) Parkway Trail will soon be bustling with outdoor sport lovers, and those who maintain the trail are already getting prepared.
Going into their fifth year, Dave Adams, manager and head groomer of the trail, said they are gearing up for this to be their busiest season yet, with winter urban pathways becoming a new hot trend and people suffering from cabin fever after being indoors for months during the pandemic.
“Look at all the choices people are faced with. People are locked in their houses and they can’t go anywhere and they need to go outside,” says Adams. “We are heading into a special year, possibly our biggest season yet in light of COVID.”
While it will mostly be business as usual, some extra work is being done this year to help with physical distancing because of the pandemic. Extra track will be groomed wherever possible to ensure a six-foot distance can be maintained, even on popular days.
“[In] all open spaces, we will be putting in tracks beside the main trail,” said Adams. “There will be some space between each track so people will have lots of options to choose from should there be any issues with being in crowds.”
An extra volunteer groomer has been added to the roster to help with the added work, with five people now volunteering their time to ensure the track is accessible to all.
Snow fences are currently going up to help with any blowing snow coming from the Ottawa River and all the machinery is being checked.
Warming huts, like the Champlain Park Fieldhouse, will be locked this year but the skating rink and park will remain open. The Mill Street Pub will also be operating, as long as government restrictions aren’t reinstated, but will be operating at a reduced capacity.
This year, a toboggan hill is being added at Remic Rapids, a part of the park Adams calls “the heart of the trail.”
“Remic Rapids is the mid-point of the trail and really is the main focus because it is the location of the Nordic Village,” he said.
The SJAM Parkway Winter Trail, which follows along 16 km of the Ottawa River, was launched as a short season pilot project in 2015. The trail, which stretches along the river from Dominion Transit Station to the back door of the Canadian War Museum, is an oasis for cross-country skiers, snowshoers, or anyone who is looking to get out and enjoy the winter weather.
In order to keep the project alive, and to cover the maintenance costs, a fundraiser is launched annually.
“That money is to support this program,” Adams said. “The money goes into payout for the equipment, paying me a salary to manage it and for administrative costs like insurance. The budget is around $51,000 and that gives you the whole program — grooming from September through to April.”
The concept of urban winter pathways are catching on, and other communities around Ottawa are looking to SJAM for ideas and support. While it may have been the first in the city, Adams said it won’t be the last.
“You will see these trails popping up through[out] the city and I am so delighted to hear that,” he said. “I work hard on building up a model and demonstrating to our city the impact of urban winter pathways and what they mean to making our city liveable.”
Winter pathways cater to a variety of winter sports and are not limited to just one, which is why the idea is catching on, Adams said. They are also able to withstand different weather patterns and are easy and inexpensive to operate.
“If I am able to fundraise and give you daily grooming throughout the entire winter on donations, some contributions from business and some public money — plus I am doing all of this on volunteer labour — it just demonstrates how economical this recreational facility can be,” said Adams.
To donate to the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway Trail fund, visit their website at wintertrail.ca.