River trails may fall through this year

Unseasonable weather could leave Winnipeg skaters landlocked

A sign at the Forks indicates to visitors which trail is which.

Daniel Crump

This winter’s warmer-than-average weather has halted skating activities on the Nestaweya River Trail, leaving commuters, hockey players and figure skaters wishing for thicker ice.

The outdoor river trail starts at The Forks and makes its way down sections of the Assiniboine and Red rivers. Every year, the length of the trail depends on how the river freezes, but it typically runs longer than six kilometres.

This winter, it may not open at all.

The Province announced in early January that a swell of water coming from late-December rainfall in the United States has impacted the quality of the ice.

“Before the knowledge of that increased water flow coming up from the States, the team was already out on the ice doing testing, doing a lot of floods to thicken the ice and make it suitable for folks to be on,” Zach Peters, communications and marketing manager at The Forks, says.

“Once it’s safe to get back on the river, they will be doing that again, and then hopefully we’re opening in the not-too-distant future.”

Peters says the water levels rose between three and five feet. This wouldn’t be the first time in recent history that the trail remained closed because of poor weather conditions.

The Forks didn’t open the Nestaweya River Trail in 2020, because the way the water froze was unsafe for skaters, and it would have been too expensive and time-consuming to open.

Peters says there’s still a chance the trail will be ready by the end of January. Usually, it doesn’t officially open until sometime in the first month of the year.

“As Mother Nature allows, we will extend down the Assiniboine and down the Red,” he says. “It might not be as long as in past years, both in terms of distance and in terms of number of days open.”

In the meantime, The Forks opened its onland skating and walking trails in collaboration with the City of Winnipeg to create Winnipeg 150 Winter Park. The park is part of celebrations for the city’s 150th birthday and consists of more than a kilometre of paths, the Canopy Rink and skating areas at the CN Stage.

“Winter is not something to shy away from or hide from,” Peters says. “It is something that we see to be embraced and enjoyed.”

The Exchange District BIZ also offers a skating rink in Old Market Square, so people can enjoy the outdoors on their lunch breaks, after work or while they visit the city.

“It’s just really a great meeting place to get out into the Exchange District in the winter,” Rachael Alguire, Exchange District BIZ marketing and communications coordinator, says.

The rink opened in December, which she says was earlier than in previous years. It also functions as a site for Exchange District BIZ events, like curling competitions and Drag on Ice.

Partnered with Little Brown Jug, Drag on Ice gives a space for Winnipeg drag queens to perform on the rink while viewers take in the Exchange District.

Published in Volume 78, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 18, 2024)

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