Over the past month, I have been hearing from a lot of constituents expressing concerns about the Ribbon of Green and what this may mean for mountain biking in the river valley.
As the councillor for Ward Métis - the only ward that crosses the river - I am following these concerns closely and I look forward to discussing them further with my Council colleagues. In this blog, I share some general thoughts around the balance between preservation, conservation, and activation, as well as the importance of supporting opportunities for recreation and leisure in our river valley.
First, I want to start by recognizing the collective love we all have for Edmonton's river valley. It is a gem in our city, and an incredible asset that we are all beneficiaries of. It holds significant cultural and ecological value, and in the face of climate change, it's preservation is an important component of emissions reductions, and wildlife conservation.
The river valley also holds incredible value when it comes to the mental and physical health of residents, our attractiveness and competitiveness as a city, and our general quality of life as Edmontonians. Over the last two years, more people have been out using our river valley trails than ever before. It has been a safe refuge for many community members and a vital amenity for maintaining our wellbeing during the pandemic.
Ribbon of Green
Edmonton is currently undergoing a River Valley Modernization Project - The Ribbon of Green and River Valley ARP, which will renew the City's strategic planning for the River Valley and the processes and tools for evaluating and regulating development.
The Ribbon of Green provides strategic direction for our overall vision for the future of the River Valley, high-level plans for open spaces within it, and policy direction around what happens in that space. It is a good opportunity to have a comprehensive discussion about our priorities for the river valley. Ecological preservation is essential, and it should continue to be a priority. At the same time, the mental and physical health of residents is also a priority.
The River Valley is the city’s core biodiversity area and wildlife corridor, providing critical wildlife habitat and ecological function. It also supports diverse recreation, celebration and wellness uses that are highly valued by citizens. It is challenging and important work to meet both the people-focused and conservation objectives for this area, but I think that we can find a good balance with lower-impact recreation options like mountain biking.
A Uniquely Edmonton Experience
Edmonton's mountain biking scene is unique among similar cities, and it is a treasured and valuable part of our community. I have heard clearly from community members that they don't want to lose that, and neither do I. I have met so many Edmontonians of all ages who connect over mountain biking - from parents with young kids to residents well into their 70s. I also know folks who moved from new communities to core neighbourhoods to have easier access to our river valley for mountain biking, trail running, and hiking with their friends and families. I think we can continue to provide great mountain biking experiences while also promoting environmental stewardship - it doesn't need to be either/or.
At this stage, the City is sharing the draft Land Management Classifications (LMC) for the study area, including proposed definitions for preservation areas where only foot-based traffic would be permitted. I compared the proposed preservation areas against Trail Forks and I recognize how significantly this could impact Edmonton's mountain biking trail network. The image below shows a side-by-side section for comparison. I will be bringing these concerns to the table when this conversation comes to City Council's Urban Planning Committee later this year for an update, currently scheduled for May 31, and look forward to discussing how the City can support mountain biking and other recreational uses in the river valley in a sustainable manner.
It is important to remember that we are still early in the Ribbon of Green renewal process (phase 2 of 4) and no decisions have been finalized at this point. Engagement has been extended and I would encourage you to share your thoughts and feedback through this survey, available until February 28. To provide more opportunities for feedback, two additional public workshops are being scheduled as well.
While the development of a trails strategy and detailed trail network mapping is outside of the scope of the Ribbon of Green project, Administration is planning to advance this item for consideration by Council as part of deliberations for the next budget cycle. I believe this is an important body of work that could help provide a clear vision for our single-track network. This could be a good opportunity to establish guidelines for the maintenance and design of our network, in order to minimize environmental impact and support user experience and safety.
I also recognize that Edmonton's single-track network has largely been built, maintained, and managed by community volunteers for several decades for all Edmontonians to enjoy. I look forward to further engagement with members of the mountain biking community, EMBA, and other stakeholders who use and love our river valley.
I appreciate all of the feedback I have received directly from constituents and welcome your thoughts as this conversation continues.