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Rick Shore skates down the Assiniboine River the day it opened at The Forks.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Rick Shore skates down the Assiniboine River the day it opened at The Forks.

The Assiniboine River skating trail is now open between The Forks and Omand’s Creek, near Polo Park.

The trail -- last year named the world’s longest natural skating rink -- now extends six kilometres and is expected to grow past its record-setting 8.54-kilometre mark by the end of next week, said a spokeswoman for The Forks North Portage Partnership, which manages The Forks and runs the skating trail.

Moreover, with forecasts of warm weather for this weekend and the launch of winter programming, crowds out on the ice are expected to be sizeable.

"It will be very busy this weekend," said Clare MacKay, manager of marketing and communications. "Looking at the (predicted) temperatures, I think it’s going to be absolutely packed."

The skating trail has grown little by little since it first opened earlier this month. Once open to Assiniboine Park, it will command a distance of 9.34 kilometres.

Three-sided warming huts have been erected at various points along the trail to allow skaters to escape the elements. There is also a snow-packed path beside the ice trail for runners, walkers and people with toboggans.

Seven weeks of winter programming gets underway late Friday afternoon at 5:30 with a candlelight skate in the vicinity of The Forks.

The candlelight skate will last until 9:30 p.m. Entertainers will also be part of the evening’s program.

On Saturday, actors telling stories of the voyageurs -- the French explorers who opened the European exploration of Canada -- will set up on the river ice at The Forks and near the Manitoba Legislature. They will also serve bannock and hot chocolate.

Forks visitors can also participate in ice painting and sculpting.

On Sunday, activities will include building of inukshuks, the stone cairns used throughout the Arctic.

All activities will take place on the river ice near The Forks, MacKay said.

fpcity@freepress.mb.ca