Manda Wilde, senior manager of the city’s parks development project, said the area presents several challenges and leaving things as they are is still on the table.
St. Albert has identified potential options to fill gaps in the Red Willow Trail system in the Oakmont neighborhood, but it’s undecided whether the city will pursue them.
Manda Wilde, senior manager of the city’s parks development project, outlined options for adding trails during a Jan. 27 virtual presentation on Zoom. Wilde also answered attendees’ questions and gathered feedback. The presentation can be viewed on the city’s YouTube channel.
In late 2020, council approved the first phase of the project to fill trails in the Oakmont neighborhood and east to an existing dead end trail behind the Botanica development, allocating $298,400 from the reserve of city capital for public engagement, environmental and geotechnical assessments, route options, and a detailed design for trail construction if the project proves feasible.
When presenting potential plans for three main sections of the trail, Wilde noted that the sensitivity of floodplains, limited available space and steep slopes make this project particularly “tricky”. The option to leave things as they are and not complete the course in these areas is always a possibility, Wilde pointed out.
Potential Trail Plans
The first segment of trail the city considered spans the existing old Bellerose gravel road, which Wilde says is used by cyclists and pedestrians but is not aligned with city standards for mobility for all ages and abilities.
This gravel segment could be converted to a three meter paved trail, consistent with the existing Red Willow trail system. Wilde said it was possible to connect the trail to Oak Hill Place, but noted the area was extremely steep and might require stairs or be left as a grass connection.
This change would increase maintenance costs but improve accessibility for those with mobility aids, strollers or walkers, Wilde said.
The second section would extend the existing trail from Oak Point to Otter Crescent. Wilde shared two different potential alignments, each with sub-options for how the trail is built.
The first route would take the segment south, closer to the river, with options for a three-meter-wide asphalt path or a 1.5-meter-wide gravel path.
Embedded between the trees, the alignment would be “very consistent” with Red Willow Trail standards, Wilde said.
“You hear, smell and smell closer to the river,” Wilde said.
However, aligning the trail near the river would require tree removal and may also require the city to move dirt into the floodplain, which would require provincial approval, which Wilde said the city “does not take lightly” and would like to avoid. at all costs.
The second alignment would have the trail along the edge of Otter Crescent, providing the best view of the Sturgeon River.
With the alignment of Otter Crescent, the city could either clear trees along the edge of the roadway to build the standard three-meter trail, or use part of the pre-existing road for the trail, an option that Wilde says , would be “inexpensive”. “This option would eliminate on-street parking, but require no or minimal loss of trees.
The city has identified an option for the portion of the road leading to the Botanica development from Oakbay Point to Orchard Court: the addition of a three-metre paved pathway at the top of the bank.
Not only would this trail pass fairly close to existing landowners’ property, but Wilde said the area has varying inclines and may require switchbacks or stairs, which will reduce accessibility.
Wilde described the last section from Orchard Court to Botanica Trail as particularly complex, with many “slopes to cross and weirs that we have to cross”.
The first option would connect the first weir adjacent to Orchard Crescent with a bridge, then cross the Boudreau development property and cross Riverbank Landing with a bridge and stairs to the existing trail behind Botanica.
Wilde said this option would connect well with existing and planned commercial developments, reduce floodplain impacts due to elevation, and provide exercise options with stairs. However, the steep slopes would pose a construction challenge and the stairs would introduce a barrier to accessibility, Wilde noted.
The second option for the Orchard Court to Botanica Trail portion is similar. Instead of crossing Boudreau Development property, however, the trail would descend halfway and connect to a boardwalk near the river that would then lead back to the existing trail.
Wilde noted that the boardwalk would not be cleared in the winter due to the risk of damage from snow removal equipment and could be prone to flooding.
When asked by a participant, Wilde said there is no formal agreement between the city and the private landowners at this time, as the city has not yet decided to build the trail.
She noted that there will be a trail within the Riverbank Landing development in the future, but whether it will be part of the private development or if it will connect to the larger Red Willow Trail system will be determined as part of this planning process.
Some meeting participants expressed excitement about the potential trail connections.
“I can’t wait for this connection to be established. The Orchard Court area needs more connections. So many people are walking along the river in this area and a formal trail will be well used by Oakmont residents and others,” an anonymous participant wrote in the chat.
Others were more apprehensive.
Hugh Campbell, a resident who lives in Oakbay Point, expressed concern that the potential footpath would skirt his property, making its whereabouts “quite visible to anyone passing by on a Sunday afternoon”.
“That’s a concern for me,” Campbell said.
Another concern shared by Campbell is the continued disturbance of wildlife.
“We used to have lots of deer on my property,” Campbell said. “Since Botanica was built I haven’t seen a single deer – There has been an occasional moose, but much less than before.”
He said there were also prairie chickens and “all kinds of waterfowl” in the area.
“to disrupt their lives would be a travesty,” Campbell said.
If the city decides the project is feasible, the trail project will enter its detailed design phase. The city council is not required to approve the design of the project, but is expected to provide funding for construction in future budget processes.
Since the project could deviate from city standards, Wilde said his team may choose to have a discussion with the council to get their perspective going forward.
“It’s a non-standard and very difficult place to build trails,” Wilde said. “We have to make trade-offs, and the board may want to weigh in on those.”