A City of Red Deer map showing the River Bend Trail Enhancement Project, which involves widening 5.5 kilometres of the existing trail, upgrading the biathlon range and building a stadium area. These upgrades are required to meet the necessary technical requirements for hosting the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer.

Concern raised about trees cut down in River Bend rec area

Wider cross-country, biathlon trails needed for Red Deer’s 2019 Winter Games

Hundreds of evergreen trees in River Bend Golf and Recreation Area were felled over the past week to make way for wider cross-country and biathlon trails before the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer. 

That’s raised the concern of Mark Ryan, who said he first noticed about 30 harvested evergreen trees on the side of the road to the golf club house last week. Ryan walks the area regularly with his dogs.

But his concern increased after more and more harvested trees began to show up. “We’re not talking about skinny little trees. … They’ve made a brand new swath up the hill.”

“Why do they have to take out so many trees? And what’s the area going to look like now?” He also wonders if soil erosion will be a problem.

“I think it’s wonderful that we’re hosting the Games but when I look at hundreds of big evergreen trees that have been taken down just to widen this trail, I’m not necessarily a tree hugger … but I just wonder how necessary it really is, and how worthwhile.”

The area is closed off while the work is underway. Trails will be temporarily closed and signs posted as the project proceeds. It’s expected to be completed this fall.

”I don’t know what it looks like now but it was so beautifully treed, a perfect place to go for walks, and people in the summertime ride their mountain bikes up there.”

Curtis Martinek, projects superintendent for the City of Red Deer, said the Canada Games technical requirements for the cross-country and biathlon events include a minimum of nine metres wide for uphill climbs, and the rest of the trails must be six metres wide.The current trails on average are three to 3.5 metres wide, he said. A total of 5.5 km of the existing 14.5 km of trails will be improved.

The city did work with the users of the area to get input on the project, and no one likes to see trees come down, he said.

The felling and harvesting work on the upper trails has finished. Now tree stumps and smaller shrubbery are being mulched. When the ground dries, the trails will be graded and seeded. Also matting, and some of the harvested logs will be used as well to help prevent erosion. For the most part, the work will follow existing trails, however one to two kilometres are in new areas. Where there is new trail, the old part will be rehabilitated.

Martinek said most of the trees taken down were black poplar. As well, there was some aspen, a bit of birch and the evergreens. The city will be replanting some trees next to the river, near the biathlon range, to compensate.

The project cost, which includes the trail work, grading a new stadium area south of the golf club house, and widening the biathlon range, is $365,000. The long-term benefit of the wider trails will be that the city will have facilities to host higher level competitions, and also they will accommodate multiple users, such as hikers and cyclists, at the same time, he said.

barr@reddeeradvocate.com