A grassroots organization committed to outdoor urban recreation space will petition city councillors for increased funding to the City’s urban forestry division to help recovery efforts after an unseasonable fall snowstorm damaged thousands of trees.
"The crisis of the ice storm is not over. The tree canopy has been severely damaged and we know the significant number of trees that have been damaged," said Ron Mazur, co-chair of OURS-Winnipeg, a community-based advocacy group focused on greenspaces, river and nature corridors and the urban forest.
"Everyone should be stepping up to the plate.
"We think the budget overall has to be enhanced and a priority has to be placed on the forestry budget and the need for immediate action so that we have a city in the future that has a nice green canopy that all can enjoy," Mazur said.
Ahead of the Thanksgiving long weekend, Winnipeg was walloped by a snowstorm that dumped wet sticky snow onto trees that were still in leaf, causing limbs to break and whole trees to succumb to the weight of the snow.
According to the City of Winnipeg, approximately 10 per cent of all City-owned trees on boulevards and in parks were damaged by the storm — roughly 30,000. The unprecedented tree damage also forced the City to temporarily close four parks to the public: Crescent Drive Park, King’s Park, St. Vital Park, and Kildonan Park.
"Each of the four parks sustained significant damage, including fallen trees and broken branches that remain a fall risk," a City of Winnipeg spokesperson said in a statement. A request for an interview with a member of the urban forestry division was not accommodated.
"The parks may remain closed for a number of weeks, as crews are right now focusing efforts on removing any remaining hazards on streets and ensuring major streets and collectors are passable."
Crescentwood's Munson Park has since been added to the list.
Mazur, who is also chair of Crescent Park Rescue — a community group dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of Crescent Drive Park — said damage to trees in the park and forest is severe.
"When you see river bottom trees that have toppled over because of the weight of the ice storm, it is a serious matter, particularly a safety concern first of all," Mazur said. "You can see some very large trees that have crashed onto the forest trail and landed on a fence, and crushed a fence by the golf course."
Mazur said high water levels on the Red River have added another safety concern in the park.
"The record high levels have flooded the canoe-kayak dock. It’s sitting perched at a 45 degree angle upwards. The water has reached the roadway, it hasn’t covered it, but there is river water in areas we don’t see except in spring flooding."
Mazur said he understands that parks are not the City’s primary concern as it deals with damaged trees along roadways, boulevards and sidewalks, and the park closures are reasonable given the extent of tree damage.
"They really take care of the park," Mazur said. "I’m confident they will get to the parks and get to dealing with trees that pose a danger."
The construction of a four-season pavilion in Crescent Drive Park has also been put on hold due to the park closure. A spokesperson with the City said construction crews have been removed from the area, and will not be allowed into Crescent Drive Park until the park is reopened.
Mazur said contractors had hoped to be finished for the winter cross-country ski season, but now he doubts the facility will open before spring.
As the City begins consultations with the public this November on budget matters, Mazur said OURS-Winnipeg will ramp up its campaign to get more money for the City’s forestry department and people can get involved by going to www.ours-winnipeg.com
"It’s absolutely vital that green infrastructure be placed as a priority," Mazur said.
"The time to significantly increase the budget of the forestry department and the parks department is now, so we can start to preserve, protect, and increase the tree canopy in the city of Winnipeg."
For folks in Fort Richmond who accessed King’s Park for the off-leash dog area, no nearby alternatives are immediately available.
In collaboration with the Greater Council of Winnipeg Community Centres, there is a process to convert outdoor hockey rinks into off-leash dog areas in the off season. A resident must request their community centre board convert the community centre’s ice rink to a temporary off-leash area, or the community centre board can initiate the conversion.
When asked whether the City would be providing another option to those who use the King’s Park off-leash dog area in the community, a spokesperson said "individuals looking for an alternative to the King’s Park off-leash area are encouraged to utilize one of the other off-leash areas in the city."
According to the City, bylaw officers will be enforcing the closures and under Parks By-law 85/2009 can be ordered to leave the park, or be issued a fine.
As of Oct. 25, new signs had been installed at Crescent Drive Park, citing the bylaw,and the fines for entering the park during the closure.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.