Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

They choo... choo... choose the path

Former CP Rail route transformed into well-used trail for city residents

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RUFUS, a poodle-terrier, leads the way while his owner, Sarah Gensorek, gripping the dog's leash, follows on her in-line skates.

Behind them comes, Seth, a smiling four-year-old, riding his red bike.

The trio chug along the Northeast Pioneers Greenway -- a smooth asphalt trail on Gateway Road. It's the route of a former Canadian Pacific Railway track -- later an abandoned railbed --until the city turned it into a fitness trail about four years ago.

Gensorek, 23, uses the trail all the time.

"It's the best thing in the world," says the graphic designer and lifelong North Kildonan resident.

Dressed in turquoise blue shorts, a top to match and brand-new in-line skates she's breaking in, Gensorek recalls when there was no such trail in the area.

"When I was growing up as a kid you had to go down the sidewalks," she says. "And you couldn't ride your bikes on the sidewalks. And it was annoying. Now there's a safe place for us to go."

The Northeast Pioneers Greenway is one of only about 10 official active transportation/fitness trails in the north part of Winnipeg.

It's in the middle of Gateway Road and stretches 5.5 kilometres from Herbert Avenue to McIvor Avenue.

And it's one of the busiest trails in the city, says Winnipeg's most outspoken trails advocate, Janice Lukes.

It cuts through remnants of tall grass prairie, wetland meadows and river-bottom forest. Along the way, you'll spot signs that help you identify the plant life in the area.

You might spot a mallard duck or a turtle if you look closely.

Strolling the trail on a Saturday afternoon, at first, feels like a long and lonely trek. On a stretch near McLeod Avenue, you're surrounded by industrial buildings and a strip mall. It can be an uninteresting walk down a straight, flat path that's seemingly never-ending, with no one in sight. As well, the lack of trees on the trail leave everyone exposed to the sun's intense rays.

A few minutes later and almost out of nowhere, the trail gets busy, almost crowded. That's when power walkers, runners, cyclists, people strolling with groceries in hand and parents with their kids appear from all directions.

Neighbourhood residents have replaced the train that once rumbled along this route. They use it to get from one place to another -- or just to condition their bodies, their engines.

The benefits of The Northeast Pioneers Greenway trail become obvious.

Just ask Tim Groner, who lives on the other end of the trail in Elmwood. He's been using the trail all summer after he got the idea that it was time to work some regular exercise into his life.

"So I got a new bike and started looking for trails that I heard were coming up around Winnipeg," says Groner, who is breathless from the two-hour ride.

The Northeast Pioneers Greenway Trail is the main trail he uses, usually once a week. Recently, he took the trail, crossed over to Henderson Highway and back again. He loves the asphalt of this trail, which makes for a silky-smooth bike ride and knowing he has no vehicular traffic to worry about.

"This definitely makes it a lot easier because I don't have cars whizzing by me," says Groner. "Don't have to worry about cars turning off in the parking lots."

Regan Pitt and Gabrielle Elste, both age 16, cycle down the trail with a destination in mind. The River East Collegiate students are heading to Tim Hortons and then to the grocery store to buy some candy.

"I use the trail once or twice a week maybe," says Pitt. "I just use it to get to places -- food or whatever."

Elste usually uses it to get to her part-time job at Tim Hortons.

"It takes about 20 minutes to walk," she says.

Lukes, a mother of triplets who uses the city's trails daily with her family, is thrilled that the Northeast Pioneers Greenway gets so much action.

"This is huge," she says, noting that the trail is part of the city's attempt to link The Forks to Birds Hill Park.

It's part of a vision that was conceived in 2004. "We have 80 per cent of it done," says Lukes, noting that the link will allow cyclists to get from The Forks to Birds Hill in less than two hours. Residents of North Kildonan could get there in less than one hour. "This is a big route."

Lukes' dream is to see cycle tourism take off in Winnipeg.

"People rent bikes, jump on, they get gear, they stop for drinks," she says. "It's a huge industry. From a tourism standpoint, it's integral. And also the more people are active, the more we save on health care."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2011 D1

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