One of the few positive things that has occurred during this pandemic is how people have taken to the many walking and cycling trails in Winnipeg. With most events cancelled and gyms, arenas and other centres closed, many Manitobans have been seeking fresh air and exercise the old-fashioned way. This winter, the Forest has been a perfect place for an energizing walk. Cross-country skiers, snowshoers and fat-tire cyclists are enjoying the trails. Situated between Charleswood and Tuxedo, this 700-acre gem of a greenspace almost didn’t exist. In 1920 it was slotted for development by the Town of Tuxedo. The trails that you find in the forest today were originally designed as roads for the proposed development. The depression came along putting an end to investment in the area and local residents began using the forest for recreation. In 1973 after persistent efforts by concerned citizens, the area was preserved as a municipal nature park.
There are a series of six paved and unpaved trails established within the southern portion of the forest for a total of 18 km of maintained trails. Some of the trails are paved with crushed limestone, others with asphalt, or wood chips. The trails make the forest easy to navigate, fascinating to study and a delightful place to get some exercise or to “commune with nature”.
The Rotary Club of Winnipeg Charleswood (RCWC) together with staff from the City of Winnipeg Naturalists’ office, are responsible for annual maintenance and upgrading of the Assiniboine Forest. This relationship has been ongoing since an initial accord was reached with the City in 1990. Since 1990, RCWC in collaboration with others has provided more than $600,000 in funding and over 2,000 volunteer labour hours, to support various forest projects and initiatives.
The Assiniboine Forest Long Range Planning Study was initiated by the Rotary Club of Charleswood Winnipeg in August 2016, concluding in March 2019. The goal of the study was to provide a clear direction for the next stage of forest management and all associated stages of development, to explore development opportunities that will improve the visitor experience at the Assiniboine Forest while maintaining the ecological sensitivity of the site, and to investigate opportunities for the future of the Assiniboine Forest at a 10 to 15 year horizon.
The Planning Study Surveys identified many “Priorities” that are listed below:
1. Complete a signage program including an Interpretive Signage component
2. A new Parking Lot on the east side of the Forest
3. Interpretive Center at Taylor and Shaftesbury
4. Replacing the wood chip trail with “hard surface” on separate return path to the Grant and Chalfont Parking Lot from the Eve Werier Pond.
5. Developing Cross Country Ski trails
6. Control horse and dog traffic
7. Public Washrooms
8. Installation of Benches
The Rotary Club of Winnipeg Charleswood is proposing to raise an additional $800,000 in funding and Grants and initiate actions in the near term and over the next 15 years to implement some of the Priorities identified in the Planning Study to enhance the “Forest Experience” for visitors, with the support of the City of Winnipeg Public Works Department, the Province of Manitoba, Government of Canada, Local Business and the Community.
Walking around the Forest, you may notice that trails on the west side of the Forest are heavily- used. They plan to embark on design and construction of additional hard surface and wood chip trails on the east side of the Forest. With the addition of more trails, directional, informational, and wayfinding signs are required. These focus on the many plant and animal species, native to the Forest and will enhance public awareness of the plants and animals.
It’s important to make the Forest accessible and include plans to convert the wood chip portion of the trail to a hard pack” surface, enabling accessible travel to all. These exciting initiatives will take time and money to complete. The Charleswood Rotary Club will be establishing a “Fund our Forest” website, offering interested individuals the opportunity to enhance the Forest, financially and through volunteer labour.
On behalf of all Manitobans, I extend gratitude to these volunteers for their vision and efforts maintaining this urban forest and creating opportunities to make our experience even better.
Hon. Myrna Driedger is MLA for Roblin and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.