Lethbridge cyclists, hikers raise alarm over development of coulee trails

Lethbridge cyclists, hikers raise alarm over development of coulee trails
WATCH: Some Lethbridge cyclists, hikers and trail runners are urging the city not to move ahead on its approved development of a popular coulee trail for public use. As Emily Olsen reports, their concerns range from safety issues to environmental impact.

Many cyclists in Lethbridge are raising concerns about an approved city project that will turn current coulee trails into wider public pathways.

“I recently moved to Lethbridge about three years ago and I really enjoy the mountain biking community,” cyclist Mark Molesky said Tuesday.

“It’s part of what helps me make Lethbridge home.”

Molesky said the finished project would exclude current users of the trails with stairs and other infrastructure and could have safety and environmental issues.

“Our single-track trails, for context, they’re really only 30 centimetres wide and they really have a low impact to the ecological environment in comparison to getting a whole bunch of heavy-duty machinery to come down and basically make a 1.5-metre trail,” he said.

READ MORE: Thousands of cyclists are injured in Canada each year — here’s how to stay safe while riding a bike

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He said cyclists’ concerns are not being addressed.

“There was previous online engagement,” Molesky explained. “All 29 out of 29 comments were against it. But they just continue to kind of blaze on with this plan.”

The $1.7-million project would see three kilometres of pathway built.

City officials said the entire trail totals 30 kilometres. 

“There’s plenty of other voices we did listen to,” parks manager David Ellis explained. 

“There [are] naturalists, people that are concerned with the environment, there [are] birdwatchers, general walkers, people that want to ride their bikes with a child on their back that maybe aren’t into the risks and the thrills. They also want access into the park.”

READ MORE: Lethbridge residents concerned over installation of bike boulevard

Avid hiker Tracey Feyter said she disagrees with the idea that the current trails aren’t inclusive.

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“The other day we were out hiking,” Feyter said. “We saw people with cruiser bikes on that path, we saw older people hiking on that path, we saw young people walking that path, we saw people with baby backpacks on that path.”

She said she is concerned about traction.

“I’m going to feel less safe,” Feyter said. “If you look at the trails now that have been made in that limestone, they’re not [maintained].”

Lethbridge resident Cheryl Arelis has a background in ecology and wildlife and said her husband was part of the original development of the River Valley Parks system.

READ MORE: Construction on link pathway connecting Coaldale and Lethbridge will begin in spring

She said the current bike trails were never intended to be part of the parks.

“The only thing that keeps the soil in place is the plant cover as well as the embedded rocks,” Arelis said. “Mountain biking decimates all plant material, and evidence of clear, deep erosion is visible wherever mountain bikers have decided they need to practise their sport.

“Many endangered species rely on the grassland cover to propagate, and with dwindling remains of native grasslands, areas such as Lethbridge’s coulee and river bottom parks system [are] critical for their survival.”
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In a presentation at Monday’s Community Issues Committee meeting, city officials highlighted the point that the creation of formal trails can reduce the development of random wear paths, which could further disrupt ecosystems.

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Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West, said she has gotten an earful from concerned trail users. She said finding a middle-ground shouldn’t be difficult.

“Lethbridge has some of the most world-class mountain biking in Western Canada. With a little bit of trail maintenance, signage, that kind of thing, we could really improve this infrastructure,” she said.

While the pathway has already been approved for construction this spring, residents are encouraged to continue to provide feedback to the city on the project.