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This article was published 21/8/2011 (3521 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Ask Janice Lukes about Winnipeg's Bois-Des-Esprit trail and she'll make it sound more exciting than an African safari.
"You'd never ever know you're in the city when you're in this place," says the most outspoken trail advocate in town. "You've got owls, eagles, deer, beavers, muskrats, turtles the size of garbage-can lids.
"It's amazing. It's in the middle of Winnipeg, in the middle of suburbia deluxe. And you've got this forest, this amazing place. It's the last thing you'd think you'd come across. It's very cool."
Bois-Des-Esprit is one of the numerous walking trails in the south end of the city. It's nestled near the residential neighbourhood of Royalwood and goes through 117 kilometres of forest -- specifically, Winnipeg's second-largest river-bottom forest after the Assiniboine Forest. It contains five ecosystems: riverbottom, wetland, oak forest, aspen forest and grassland, according to the Winnipeg Trails Association website.
It's also home to the Seine River, a habitat for numerous species of wildlife, including snapping turtles.
The city built the trail just two years ago. It's a place Lukes frequents with her eight-year-old triplets, who get a kick out of the so-called wood spirits a few local carvers have shaped out of giant tree stumps.
It was about 20 years ago when some forward-thinking city officials came up with the idea to build a trail system in Winnipeg, one that would eventually connect together, Lukes says.
The city had only scattered bits and pieces of trail that didn't really go anywhere.
Today, trail stewards are closer than ever to realizing their dream of a Winnipeg full of people using their own physical power to get to from neighbourhood to neighbourhood along a connected trail system.
Wander onto a Winnipeg trail on a summer day and you might see walkers, runners, cyclists, in-line skaters, parents pushing their babies in strollers and even people in wheelchairs. Some are commuting to a specific place. Others are just enjoying being out in nature.
To date, the Winnipeg Trails Association lists nearly 40 trails. Some are more connected than others. There are also several hidden gems that are not listed or mapped out by the city.
In the last five years, Lukes says more than $40 million has been spent on trails and cycling infrastructure around Winnipeg -- $20 million just last year alone. It's all an effort to promote active transportation and fitness.
Leone Banks, a founder of trail-walking group Prairie Pathfinders, is thrilled that more people are discovering trails. The Fort Garry grandmother's latest project is leading guided walking tours on some of the lesser-known trails and pathways in Winnipeg.
Among her discoveries are the Bridgwater Forest trails located in the new development of Waverley West. Another favourite is the Harte Trail in Charleswood, a pathway she loves, thanks to its wild trees, grass and shrubbery.
And although Banks loves wandering the trails solo while she gathers her thoughts, she also finds joy in helping others discover Winnipeg's secret web of pathways and trails.
"One person told me, 'I've lived in Winnipeg all my life. I have never known about this place. I can't believe I didn't know," she says. "They are just like kids in a candy store. 'Where are we going to go next week? What are we going to see that's new?'
"I see things in a new way, too. We're showing people their own city. And they just look so thrilled to find these new trails we've known about for years."
Here are some key trails in south Winnipeg. (We're defining south as anything south of Notre Dame and south of Dugald Road:
Trails east of the Red River (and south of Dugald Road)
Connectivity: Goes through 47 hectare of urban forest
Parking: Parking circle on west side of John Bruce Bridge. Extra Foods parking lot at St Anne's Road and Southglen Boulevard
Route length: Two kilometres
Surface type: Gravel
Why it's special: This trail winds along the second-largest river-bottom forest in the city -- second only to the Assiniboine Forest. It contains five different ecosystems. On it, you might spot turtles and whitetail deer as well as majestic oak, poplar and cottonwood trees. Considered a vital part of the Seine River Greenway.
Bishop Grandin Trail (East)
Connectivity: Links Sage Creek in the far east side of the city all the way to Charleswood.
Parking: St. Vital Park, St. Vital Shopping Centre
Route length: Seven kilometres
Surface type: Asphalt
Why it's special: At 12 kilometres, the Bishop Grandin Trail is Winnipeg's longest multi-use trail. The east part of the trail happens to land east of the Red River and spans seven kilometres. Home to butterfly gardens and a public fruit orchard.
Others trails east of the Red and south of Dugald Road:
Dakota / Dunkirk Pathway
Old St. Boniface Route
Louis Riel Sr. Route
Gabrielle Roy Route
South St. Vital Trail
Henteleff Park Trail
Trails west of the Red River (and south of Dugald Road)
Bridgwater Forest Trails
Connectivity: Trails stay in Waverley West
Parking: On the street. Get to the trails at the Arbour Meadow Gate entrance, located off Waverley Street.
Route length: Five kilometres
Surface type: Asphalt
Why it's special: This trail system is part of Winnipeg's newest neighbourhood, Waverley West. The trails here are known mainly to area residents and curve through 28 hectares of meadow, lake and forests. The trail is great for kids; it contains play structures and shade plazas along the way. Currently there is no city policy that obligates developers to build trails on their properties. It so happens, however, that the province of Manitoba developed Waverley West / Brigwater Forest and chose to incorporate the Bridgwater Forest Trail on the property.
Other trails west of the Red River and south of Dugald Road:
Bishop Grandin Trail West
Headingley Grand Trunk Trail
Thundering Bison Trail
St. Norbert Heritage Trails
Normand Park Trail
North of the Assiniboine River (and south of Notre Dame Ave)
Yellow Ribbon Greenway Trail
Truro Creek Trail
Sturgeon Creek Greenway Trail
Omand's Creek Greenway Trail
Sources: The Winnipeg Trails Association, Winnipeg Walks, Janice Lukes. For more information and maps of Winnipeg trails, check out www.winnipegtrails.ca
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-- On extremely hot days, avoid trails that are in open, treeless areas.
-- Remember that you're sharing the trails with pedestrians, runners, cyclists, etc. Use the right side of a trail.
-- When you're cycling, don't be afraid to use a bell to alert others are approaching.
-- Trails along abandoned rail beds tend to be higher and, therefore, not as muddy.
When taking kids
out on trails
-- Choose to walk on shaded trails.
-- Be aware of bathroom locations along each trail. (Check the Winnipeg Trails Association website for locations).
-- Take plenty of water.
-- Asphalt trails after heavy rains are often covered in worms, making them perfect places for kids to go "worming." It's a favourite pastime of Janice Lukes' three sons. "You put (them) in jars and you fling them at your mother," Lukes says.