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City staff says it will cost millions to maintain Edmonton river valley trails

The current trails are damaged due to weather, floods and erosion.

Jerry Roberge walks the river valley trails year round.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Jerry Roberge walks the river valley trails year round.

City staff say they’re going to need several million dollars if they’re going to keep Edmonton’s beloved River Valley trails in shape for the people who walk, run and bike them.

Administration asked city councillors Tuesday for between $1.5 and 3.5 million per year for a four-year plan to fix the 179 kilometre trail network in the upcoming capital budget.

Jason Meliefste, the city’s branch manager for infrastructure planning and design, told the executive committee meeting that many of the current paths are showing wear and tear from weather changes, floods, erosion or just a lack of regular maintenance.  

“The most important thing to take away from today's presentation is that we have a good understanding of what the situation is,” he said.

“We know there is room for improvement and we are looking forward to being able to respond to that in the next couple of years.”

Mayor Don Iveson said that the river valley is North America’s largest urban park and is worth investing in.

“These trails are a competitive advantage for our city, the river valley is a differentiator for us,” he said.

“We have invested money in building these trails and we are at risk of losing the asset because we haven’t put the money in.”

Tim Busch was out walkng his dog on the trails near Hawrelak Park, Tuesday morning. A resident in the city for almost 50 years, he said in all those years he hasn’t noticed much maintenance work.

“Unfortunately, the city hasn’t had a good track record,” he said. “They build them and they just leave them going until they slump into the river or wash out … and then they build new trails.”

Meliefste agreed that the city had done not enough to maintain the trails.

“We just probably haven’t responded with the level of effort that is probably needed and I think we are looking to do a bit of a course correction on that and address it,” he said.

As part of maintenance, the city will look into not only hard-packing and fixing the current trails but also relocating some trails away from high risk areas that are too close to water or slopes.

Jerry Roberg was also out on the trail with his dog Tuesday, and said he thought the trails were getting better but still could use more work.

“I think they can always improve on the trails so they are not getting very muddy and stuff,” he said.

He said if the city kept the trails in better shape, more people would spend time there.

Charlie Richmond of the Sierra Club also pointed out that trail maintenance affects the accessibility of trails for people with mobility issues.

He pointed out that people who use wheelchairs had trouble navigating potholes and bumps on the trails.

“We all need access to nature,” he said. “Much of our park infrastructure from trails to picnic tables are not universally accessible.”

Council has asked administration to provide another report on options for implementing more universal design standards that would make trails more accessible for everyone. They also asked for a total inventory of the damaged trails and the risks posed by trail conditions.

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