Wear and Tear of Heavy Traffic Taking its Toll on the Rideau River Nature Trail

By John Dance

The pandemic has had a huge impact on residents’ lives but who would have thought it would also be responsible for greatly changing Old Ottawa East’s spinal pedestrian route, the Rideau River Nature Trail or, as the City calls it, the Rideau River Western Pathway? Some residents think we need to treat the route – especially the section south of Brantwood Park – with greater care.

The stretch of the pathway between the McIlraith Bridge and Greystone Village looks very different than it did pre-pandemic: it’s much wider and more
worn.
In a sense, this is a good thing as it reflects maintaining COVID social distancing and greater use of the pathway by OOE residents and visitors from the Glebe, Old Ottawa South and elsewhere.

But on the other hand, the much wider pathway means that vegetation has been trampled, habitat has disappeared and the attempt at naturalizing the route has been set back.

Pre-pandemic the Rideau River Nature trail was lightly used. Photo by John Dance

Pre-pandemic the Rideau River Nature trail was lightly used. Photo by John Dance

The nature trail was one of Sustainable Living Ottawa East’s original projects. Considerable tree planting and invasives removal have been conducted over the years.


“It would be nice to see that whole footpath receive a bit more love…I think it just looks quite sad at the moment.”

The City of Ottawa proposed to pave the pathway to make cycling easier but SLOE pushed back and the City agreed to set the official cycling route along Onslow Crescent and Bullock Avenue. At one point, given the flooding that generally occurs in the Brantwood area, the City considered building a boardwalk pathway like the ones used in protected environments elsewhere in Ottawa, but this was deemed too expensive.

“It would be nice to see that whole footpath receive a bit more love,” says Sue Somerset, a frequent pathway user. “The pathway is really worn at the moment with foot traffic. I think it just looks quite sad at the moment.”

“I think that section of the trail could be our community’s secret wildlife garden – a lovely breathing space – for nature and for us – in the middle of our neighbourhood,” says Somerset. “We are so very lucky to have an abundance of wildlife in the area, including the turtles, both great blue and green herons. But, as we’ve seen elsewhere, ecosystems are fragile and need our help to be there in the future.”


“…as we’ve seen elsewhere, ecosystems are fragile and need our help to be there in the future.”

In terms of improvements, Somerset thinks the boardwalk proposal makes sense or “If not a boardwalk, we need some kind of clear path markers to avoid the current damage continuing.” She likes SLOE’s existing information plaques along the route but recommends “some material pitched for kids.”

Now, it is much wider and used by many, including a lots of cyclists. Carol Buckley picture above -advocates measures to keep the pathway natural and safe for pedestrians. Photo by John Dance

Now, it is much wider and used by many, including a lots of cyclists. Carol Buckley picture above -advocates measures to keep the pathway natural and safe for pedestrians.
Photo by John Dance

“SLOE’s invasive brigade does great work at removing burdock and other invasives from the area, but I think we need to reintroduce some native plants – if nothing else than to reverse the current degradation by soil compacting,” she says.

A complicating factor is that many more cyclists are riding the McIlraith-Brantwood stretch even though it isn’t paved. Indeed, a number of cyclists argue that the pathway should be paved through this area. Also, residents along the river side of Rideau Garden Drive have an active interest in the pathway behind their homes, an interest that recently led to the City not removing tree stumps where flowers had been planted.

“City action – including more signage, parallel gates that people can get through but not bikes – to encourage bikes NOT to use the pathway would be appreciated,” says Centennial Avenue resident Carol Buckley. “This would make it safer for fauna and flora as well as to reduce the risk of injury as bikes go shooting by the pedestrians on a fairly narrow strip.”

The City currently has no plans for changes to the pathway. It will continue to mow the area 8-10 times a year and it is reassessing the area to determine if additional trees are warranted in light of the removal of many dead ash trees.

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