Cycling Adventures on the World’s Longest Urban Pathway System

Three things prompted us to opt for summer in the city this year:

  1. A desire to avoid the crowds flocking to the Rocky Mountain Parks thanks to free park passes celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial;
  2. Smoke from wildfires in BC, which aggravates my usually well-controlled asthma and impairs the scenic pay-off at the end of a hike; and
  3. The #greenway150 challenge, which encourages Calgarians to get out and enjoy the Rotary-Mattamy Greenway, the longest urban park and pathway system in the world!

Rotary-Mattamy-Greenway

The #greenway150 challenge began June 25 and wraps-up with a city-wide celebration on September 2, so you still have time to run, walk, skip, skate or cycle 150 km if you register now!

Five reasons you should register for the #greenway150

  1. For the chance to win something! Parks Foundation Calgary is doing weekly random prize draws for participants who share Greenway adventure photos on social media using #greenway150. It made my day when I learned they drew one of my July tweets. The prize package was a cute, Canadian-themed, insulated lunch bag containing a box of 12 golf balls and $125 of Lululemon gift cards. Sweet!
  2. To be more active; it’s the only way to log 150 km on the Greenway by August 28th.
  3. To enjoy the outdoors! Register as a team and #playoutside with family and/or friends.
  4. To explore Calgary. The 138 km Rotary-Mattamy Greenway connects 55 communities in all quadrants of the city and includes family-friendly playgrounds, public art installations, wetlands and more.
  5. To celebrate Canada’s 150th all summer long!

We’ve been following #greenway150 on Twitter and know of at least one Calgarian who rode the entire Rotary-Mattamy Greenway in one day!

Our approach wasn’t that ambitious! Instead, we’ve explored the Greenway in chunks, taking advantage of the fact that it can be accessed via neighbourhood pathways, the Bow River Pathway, the Elbow River Pathway, the TransCanada Trail and runs fairly close to several LRT stations. With the exception of a few bits in the deep southeast, we completed a composite loop of the Greenway over the August long weekend:

Rotary-Mattamy-Greenway

A Great Idea

Pedaling more than 500 km on Calgary pathways over the past 6 weeks, we’ve come to realize that the Rotary-Mattamy Greenway is a great idea! It’s the wheel that connects the spokes of other key pathways in Calgary and its proximity to the Sirocco, Tuscany, Saddletown and Fish Creek LRT stations enhances the Greenway’s practicality (bikes are allowed on the LRT during non-peak hours).

In other words, the Greenway provides overall value to those of us using active transportation to commute, buy groceries, run errands, visit family/friends and explore Calgary. And it greatly expands the network of pathways available to those who ride, run, walk and skate for fitness.

Plan a Greenway Daycation

Beyond its utility for active transportation and fitness, the Greenway includes some destination sections that should be in contention when you’re planning your next Calgary daycation.

Recommendation #1:
Southeast Wetlands and Ralph Klein Regional Park

Our top recommendation is the Crescent Point Southeast Wetlands and Ralph Klein Regional Park. There never seems to be anyone at Ralph Klein Regional Park, although I’ve read that it’s popular with students and teachers during the school year. This is one of few locations along the Greenway with public washrooms (check building hours here). There are plenty of picnic tables, the architecture is lovely, it’s a bird-watching destination and there’s even a public art installation. A playground will be added in the next year or two.

 

The 5 km stretch of boardwalks, benches and viewing platforms in the Crescent Point Southeast Wetlands is another lesser-known gem. As far as we’re aware, it’s the longest stretch of boardwalk in Calgary, which makes it a unique and picturesque riding experience.

Rotary-Mattamy-Greenway

Access: Our route to Ralph Klein Regional Park was via the Bow River Pathway through downtown Calgary, connecting to the Western Irrigation District Canal pathway and then riding east and south along the Greenway. It’s a longish ride (93 km by the time we returned home), plus there’s a stretch near the Shepard Community Hall where the Greenway abruptly ends and you have to ride on the road to cross a rail line in the area. A better option, especially for families, would be to park in Copperfield and ride north. Another (considerably longer) possibility would be to ride from the Fish Creek LRT station.

Recommendation #2:
Northwest Calgary

If you like to include public art in your explorations of Calgary, the Tuscany LRT station is a good point from which to explore at least part of the NW Calgary Greenway. Be warned – this is the hilliest part of the Greenway and every time you enjoy a rush of speed heading downhill means you’ll be expending effort and working up a sweat on the way back!

There are two interesting pieces right at the Tuscany LRT station: roger that and the old Eamon’s Bungalow Camp sign.

 

 

Heading north and east from the Tuscany LRT station, you’ll ride past the nicest storm pond system in all of Calgary in Royal Oak and will eventually reach Inland Athletic Park. We had some problems with the Greenway signage in this part of town and had to check our paper pathway map (2017 edition) several times. Scroll down to the “navigation” section of this #greenway150 webpage for other resources to help you get around.

 

NOTE – We do NOT recommend cycling east of Evanston this summer. There’s a lengthy still-to-be-constructed section east of Centre Street that we got around by cycling on gravel range roads for several km.

 

Riding south from the Tuscany LRT station, you’ll soon pass a the large “Sunning Buffalo” sculpture.

Rotary-Mattamy-Greenway

From there, it’s a gentle downhill ride through the neighbourhood, along Twelve Mile Coulee. If you’re heading back to Tuscany LRT station, turn around before the big downhill to the Home Depot on Nose Hill Drive. If you’re continuing, it’s a nice downhill pretty much until you’re under the Stoney Trail bridge across the Bow River (including a cool little tunnel and a pedestrian/bicycle bridge beside Stoney Trail). At this point, the Greenway basically merges into the long-established Bow River Pathway system and you can ride through Baker Park, Bowmont Park, etc., all the way to downtown Calgary and beyond.

 

Recommendation #3:
Northeast Calgary

The flattest, most kid-friendly section is in the Northeast, between the Cityscape Interpretive Wetlands (almost complete as of August 6, 2017) and the CN Rail Playpark. In between, key Greenway attractions include the Saddlebrook Playpark and the ARC Resources Interpretive Wetland. There’s also a short stretch adjacent to farm fields, where big round hay bales were drying when we rode past. There are no bathroom facilities along this stretch of the Greenway, so plan accordingly.

 

 

NOTE: The stretch south of the CN Rail Playpark to Ralph Klein Regional Park and the Crescent Point Southeast Wetlands is NOT family-friendly. In addition to a few missing bits that require on-the-fly navigating (mostly around Elliston Park), there’s a stretch of about 6 km that runs along the sidewalk adjacent to 52nd Street SE, through a light industrial area. Although the traffic light timing works pretty well for cycling speeds, there are a LOT of street-level intersection crossings that can be nerve-wracking. This stretch took us about 30 minutes and I can’t imagine riding this stretch with children.

Recommendation #4:
Fish Creek Provincial Park and the Weaselhead

The Greenway incorporates the main trail through Fish Creek Provincial Park. From the west end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, it runs along the transportation-utility corridor to connect up with South Glenmore Park and the Weaselhead. These are long-time favourite cycling, walking and running destinations for many Calgarians and are well worth a return visit if you haven’t been in a while. These are also some of the busiest sections of the Greenway.

 

Recommendation #5:
Explore the Greenway Close to Home

We live in west Calgary, where a fairly new stretch of the Greenway runs parallel to Sarcee Trail in the Southwest, from Bow Trail to the Westhills shopping area. It gets a lot of use. One of my favourite spots along this stretch is the Progress Energy Memorial Plaza with its poppy beds.

 

Find out where the Greenway comes closest to the place you call home and go explore!

Final Thoughts

The Greenway is almost ready for prime time. There is one significant missing piece in the north, which is slated for completion by the end of 2017. The temporary route along 52 Street East is pretty unpleasant, but it sounds like funding constraints are at play. The absence of bathrooms (or even Porta-potties) along most of the Greenway is an issue for long-distance riders, but can be addressed by making a short detour into one of the 55 communities along the Greenway to stop at the nearest Tim Hortons, Subway, grocery store or public library. A few directional signs need fine-tuning and the addition of large billboard-style maps showing highlights (such as wetlands, public art, playgrounds, etc.) in each quadrant would really help.

Those are pretty minor considerations relative to a project of this magnitude, involving so many community partners. Once the missing bits are finished, it’s gonna be really awesome! We might even try to ride the whole thing in one day!

HUGE thanks to the thirteen Rotary Clubs, Mattamy Homes and all the other partners who’ve come together to build the Greenway for the benefit of all Calgarians. We are grateful that the dream the folks at Parks Foundation Calgary dared to dream really has come true…

…how about you?

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