WINNIPEG – It’s a city attraction that can draw thousands of visitors every year. However, the riverwalk near The Forks is prone to flooding and muddy pathways, leaving many grasping for a solution.
The riverwalk has been closed on more days than it has been open this year. Between June and September, the pathway was under water for 56 out of 122 days.
That’s not what the vision was when the riverwalk was first built in 1989, according to Chelsea Thomson with The Forks.
Located on the Assinboine and Red rivers between the Osborne and Provencher bridges, it’s a key attraction that draws people to The Forks and to the city.
“All of Manitoba’s waterways, our rivers and our lakes are a huge draw in terms of visitors, both the historic significance of our rivers as well as the numbers of activities that you can do on the rivers,” said Linda Whitfield, vice-president of marketing and communications with Travel Manitoba.
But when the rivers rise, the walkway disappears and also renders the water bus service inoperable. This can disrupt tourism and also the routine of local, active-transportation users.
“It is disappointing. I often lead group rides with many people and we’ll go down to the riverwalk. On Monday it’s totally fine and we go down on Tuesday and we have to turn around because it’s no good, so it’s the inconsistency that makes it a liability for active transportation,” said William Belford, shop manager at Natural Cycle.
In other Canadian cities like Ottawa, decades have been spent on building a network of river-side pathways. However, the city does not have to deal with Manitoba’s unique flooding challenges, and a culture of active transportation has flourished there.
“It’s the kind of thing that has local citizens … out in absolute droves and it’s been a big part of the character of the city and the development of the city,” Ottawa city councillor, David Chernushenko said.
The water level on the Rideau Canal is controlled so it never floods. While some sections of the pathways along the Ottawa and Rideau rivers sometimes flood, it’s usually only during the spring melt.
That reliability doesn’t exist the same way in Winnipeg.
A recent report shows the provincial government is against using existing flood technology to lower river levels so the walkway stays above water.
“When considering operation of the Red River Floodway, it’s important to consider areas connected to the floodway and the associated costs of activating the floodway,” said Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pederson in a written statement to Global News.
The same report said the riverwalk would have to be raised seven feet to avoid the majority of flooding events. However, it also said raising it by even a couple of feet is logistically impossible due to a variety of reasons.
That leaves places like The Forks in a position where they have to adapt.
“Whether that means getting a new docking system, whether that means finding different ways to bring people through the water ways then we will have to do that,” Thomson said.
According to the City of Winnipeg, it costs approximately $18,000 to clean up the riverwalk after the spring melt, and around $5,000 to clean it after a heavy rainfall.