By Charlie Senack
The Kichi Sibi Winter Trail is becoming its own charitable entity thanks to its recent success.
The popular winter pathway, formally known as the SJAM Trail, started as a successful pilot project in 2015 and is managed by a team of groomers and volunteers. Since its founding, they have worked in partnership with the Dovercourt Recreation Centre and collaborated with the National Capital Commission (NCC).
Its use grew during the COVID-19 pandemic when outdoor activity was one of the only ways to stay active during rounds of government shutdowns. To take the trail into its new season, the mutually agreed-upon separation from Dovercourt was needed for everyone’s best interest.
“Groomer” Dave Adams, who is manager of the trail’s operations, said they are thankful for Dovercourt’s long standing partnership and are excited for what this new venture will bring.
“We really like to think of Dovercourt as being an incubator of good ideas and they should be recognized for that. It’s really hard to get new and fresh ideas going in our society,” Adams said. “They are in the business of recreation management, and having them show us the ropes was a huge asset. I know snowgrooming, but I know nothing about how to manage a recreation facility. That’s where Dovercourt came in.”
Becoming its own charity and stand-alone entity has been hard work, said Adams, who compared it to building a new company from the ground up. It comes with extra costs and overhead, which Dovercourt used to support.
Cheryl Caldwell, who has been involved with the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail for six years, has recently taken on the role as president of the charity. She said the process of becoming its own entity has been in the works for two years.
“Dovercourt provided admin support to us. They sent out the invoices, made sure that they were paid, and processed all expenses,” Caldwell said. “We had to go out and find our own insurance which is not the best industry to be dealing with right now. We have to replicate all of the infrastructure and that costs money.”
While the new changes will mean differences behind the scenes, there will be no changes for trail users. The 16-kilometer trail, which runs along the Ottawa River, will continue to be groomed from Dominion Station to the Canadian War Museum near the Mill St. Brew Pub.
The Kichi Sibi Winter Trail had one of its most successful seasons on record last year, thanks to the warmer temperatures and amount of snow.
The average January temperature in Ottawa between 1981 and 2010 was –10.2 C. In 2023 however, it was –5.9 C. As of March 2023, roughly 280 centimeters of snow was recorded at the Ottawa International Airport. In an average winter, the snowfall is about 225 centimeters..
Adams said that for this reason, winter trails are more popular and needed than ever.
“We are in the world of climate change. Last year the Rideau Canal did not open,” he said. But urban winter pathways are not bad with warmer temperatures. We only need 15 centimeters of snow and we are fully operational. Even around zero we are up and running.”
The City of Ottawa says they are looking at the possibility of incorporating the newly-opened Chief William Commanda Bridge into the winter trial. They are currently reviewing a proposal put together by Adams and his team.
“The City is currently reviewing options for the maintenance of the Chief William Commanda Bridge during both the winter and summer seasons, which includes the possibility of grooming for winter sports,” wrote Dan Chenier, General Manager, Recreation, Cultural, and Facility Services. “No decision on winter maintenance for the bridge has been made at this time.”