It may be only 700 metres wide but the redevelopment of the Red River Floodway will be bigger than 16 Assiniboine Parks by the time it's finished in a decade or two.
Jeff Frank, the landscape architect of the proposed development, said 250 metres on either side of the 48-kilometre portion of the channel between St. Norbert and Lockport will be revitalized, with a combination of nature and recreation-friendly amenities. It will cover about 6,500 acres, dwarfing the 400 acres belonging to Assiniboine park, he said.
"It's the biggest naturalization project in Canada today," he said, noting more than 800,000 trees are expected to planted, along with millions and millions of prairie grass seeds.
He said the Prairies have an "incredibly deep root zone" which is very attractive to a wide variety of insects and animals. The re-creation of forests in various spots along the floodway will also be good for the environment, he said.
"The intent over the next 10 to 20 years is to convert it into a really diverse landscape that will be good for wildlife. It's going to be beautiful. It will sequester carbon at incredible rates, much faster than any other landscape treatment," he said.
Frank said the Manitoba Floodway Authority will present its final plans once public consultations are finished next week.
Outdoor enthusiasts are most pumped about plans to reshape excavated material from the floodway into rolling hills on either side for use in both summer and winter. The west side will be for non-motorized activities, such as cycling, hiking and cross-country skiing, and the long-term plan is to pave the 3.7-metre-wide trail, Frank said. The other side will be a natural trail for mountain biking and snowmobiling.
"The hills will be very long and gentle, they won't be hazardous bumps. The trail won't be a straight line, it will be like Wellington Crescent with long curves. It will have an attractive wiggle to it, if it's curvaceous as well, all the better," he said.
Frank said the floodway trails will connect with other systems, such as the redevelopment of Duff Roblin Park in St. Norbert, the TransCanada Trail, the Seine River greenway, the Spring Hill area, the town of Bird's Hill and Bird's Hill Park.
"If you want to go for an hour-long bike ride, you can park at the 59er and spin from there," he said.
Ronuk Modha, communications manager of the Manitoba Floodway Authority, said water initiatives in the channel, such as canoeing or windsurfing, were ruled out several years ago for environmental reasons.
"The floodway was designed to allow water to flow through it as quickly as possible to minimize the erosion impact. If water is stored in the floodway, there could be issues with fish passage. The objective is not to trap them within the floodway. Any fish that may come into the floodway we want to get back into the Red River as quickly as possible," he said.
Frank said perhaps the most important recommendation for the floodway redevelopment is that the MFA take over the management of the entire area. Previously, it had been overseen by a patchwork of government resources.
What's in store
HERE are some facts about the proposed redevelopment of the Red River Floodway:
It will be one of the largest natural areas for recreation in the country when it's completed over the next 10 to 20 years.
At 6,500 acres, it will be about the same size as 16 Assiniboine Parks.
There will be approximately 800,000 trees planted at various points along the channel.
The redevelopment will cover 250 metres on both sides of the floodway from St. Norbert in the south to Lockport in the north. (A football field is about 100 metres long.)
The long-term plans calls for a paving of the 3.7-metre-wide trail on the west side of the floodway.