Mountain bikers concerned over plans for the North Saskatchewan river valley

·3 min read
An Edmonton cyclist rides along a single-track path in Terwillegar Park in May 2021.  (Submitted by Emily Rendell-Watson - image credit)
An Edmonton cyclist rides along a single-track path in Terwillegar Park in May 2021. (Submitted by Emily Rendell-Watson - image credit)

Edmonton's mountain biking community is concerned about losing access to river valley trails in the wake of a review of the city's "ribbon of green" plan that proposes changes around public access.

The city recently began a series of meetings and workshops as part of a project to modernize the 29-year-old plan that guides how the river valley will be used and cared for in the future.

Joe Yurkovich, president of the Edmonton Mountain Bike Alliance (EMBA) said the plan — an extension of the Ribbon of Green SW + NE project created to manage recreational use alongside ecological preservation — earmarks the remaining trails used by mountain bikers in the North Saskatchewan river valley as preservation areas.

"Most of the river valley is preservation area so that would mean that all of those trails, that network throughout the river valley, would be off-limits," he told CBC's Edmonton AM on Wednesday.

The view of the North Saskatchewan river from one of the paths near Terwillegar Park in Edmonton.
The view of the North Saskatchewan river from one of the paths near Terwillegar Park in Edmonton. (Submitted by Emily Rendell-Watson)

EMBA is a non-profit organization that advocates for mountain bikers.

Certain trails in the city's southwest and northeast as preservation areas were already deemed are off-limits to public use. The current review of the plan suggests extending the designation to the central part of the river valley, which is currently used by mountain bikers.

However, a city official says the review is in its early stages and that nothing has been decided yet.

City's 'greatest natural asset'

"At this point in time, we're not trying to have an outcome already," said Paul Foster, general supervisor of open space strategy.

Foster said the original Ribbon of Green Master Plan, introduced in 1992, provided a high-level plan for the river valley and is outdated.

"Now we're getting, I think, a little more detail, you know there's changing times," he said.

"We've seen a lot of different uses, especially during COVID. We've certainly seen a lot of uptake in use in the river valley. I just want to make sure that we're managing the city of Edmonton's greatest natural asset properly as we go forward."

The paths in question are secondary "unplanned" trails that have been created through nature-based activities as well as mountain biking, Foster told Edmonton AM on Friday.

Many are located in preservation areas, which Foster described as high-value nature areas the city wants to save for walking or passive recreation. As a result, mountain biking came to be prohibited, he said.

Engagement sessions

Yurkovich said some studies show mountain biking has the same kind of effect on ecology as foot traffic, as long as the trails are properly built.

"That's something that EMBA stresses," he said. "And the only time where you might have more damage from cycling would be if you're riding in really wet weather."

He added that cycling during really wet weather is discouraged by the organization.

Foster said the city will consider input from all community members, including the EMBA. The first phase of virtual stakeholder and public engagement sessions started on Thursday and continue to June 3.

"There's a lot of competing interests of what people want to see, and we want to make sure that we are being responsible with that natural asset," he said.