Lethbridge one step closer to sanctioned river valley trails: ‘Right now it’s a free-for-all’

Click to play video: 'Lethbridge committee approves plan to sanction trails in river valley'
Lethbridge committee approves plan to sanction trails in river valley
In an effort to protect the land and improve recreational experiences in Lethbridge's river valley, a network of sanctioned trails has been given committee approval. Eloise Therien has more on the purpose of the project, and what comes next. – Jun 1, 2023

After several years of advocacy, Lethbridge trail users are one step closer to having sanctioned single-track trails.

On Thursday, the civic works standing policy committee voted unanimously in favour of adopting the network, a decision which will next go in front of council if an amendment to the parks bylaw is needed.

First discussed in 2020 after administration was directed to engage with the community on river valley usage, the goal is to enhance the user experience in the coulees while protecting natural habitat.

Chris Witkowski, a member of the city’s parks and cemeteries department, said extensive engagement has taken place to get to this point, with stakeholders like Lethbridge Trail Alliance and environmental groups touting its benefits.

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He explained the areas outlined in the network are already under heavy use and no new trails will be developed at this time.

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“It’s when we start to get outside of those areas that we start to maybe get into some sensitive land,” explained Witkowski. “That’s why (it’s important) to sanction a network, because right now it is a free-for-all in the river valley and once it’s gone, it’s very hard to get back.”

Kathleen Sheppard, executive director with Environment Lethbridge, said while they have no direct involvement or position on the project, she sees the positive impact it could have.

“I think from our perspective something we’d really like to see is some improved communications and direction for the public, and it sounds like this plan will provide that,” she said.

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The trail network will stretch north to south from the Helen Schuler Nature Centre area to the Sixmile Coulee near Lethbridge College.

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For now, the network is only on the east side of the Oldman River, due to historical and ecological sensitivity on the west bank. A study is expected to be conducted next year.

Next steps include publishing network maps and plans for public communication, maintenance and signage.

The city is also looking at a feasibility study to officially connect an area known as “Battleship Island” just west of the Lethbridge Golf and Country Club.

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