Position Paper

POSITION PAPER - City of Edmonton River Valley Planning Modernization Project (Ribbon of Green)

Responses are added as they are received below the paper

What is happening?

The City of Edmonton (CoE) is currently undertaking a project to modernize the River Valley Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP) which was adopted in 1985, and to adopt a new, comprehensive, Ribbon of Green (RoG) plan for the City’s North Saskatchewan river valley and ravine system, building upon the SW+NE Ribbon of Green Plan that was adopted by City Council last year, in replacement of the original Ribbon of Green Concept Plan from 1990/1992.


What are EMBA's Concerns

1) Mountain Biking will be prohibited in Preservation Areas

Because of the pandemic, the final version of the SW+NE RoG Plan document
(which is being built upon for the comprehensive RoG plan) did not go through the final public consultation process that plans of this significance require.

There are three classifications of the river valley planning area set out in the SW+NE Ribbon of Green plan: Preservation, Conservation and Active/Working Landscapes. The latter classification is used for industrial, commercial and residential areas of the river valley and developed parks, golf courses and other recreational amenities. The other two classifications are summarized in the SW+NE RoG as follows:

Preservation: Highest level of ecological protection

Conservation: Trail based recreation; Natural Recreation

Most of the natural trail system is located within areas presently designated as Preservation. The SW+NE RoG states (at pages 68 and 69) that in Preservation areas:

“recreational opportunities are limited to foot-based travel along non-paved trails
in appropriate locations (as determined through an environmental review)”

and that the criteria for determining Compatible Uses of these areas include that:

“The potential use does not require equipment or specialized gear (e.g. bicycles
and boats)”.

The result of this, of course, is that the SW+NE RoG proposes to exclude mountain bikes from all the singletrack, natural, trails in Preservation areas (unless designated as a Conservation trail) and limit traffic on these trails to foot based traffic, only. Trail runners will have their access limited by a prohibition against use of these trails for races and organized runs (using flagging or other markers).

2) The Natural Trail system is not recognized as a City asset

Presently, none of the natural trails in the North Saskatchewan river valley and ravine system are recognized as City of Edmonton assets. This means that: there is no recognition of the extensive nature of the trail system (as of September 21, 2021 https://www.trailforks.com/region/edmonton/stats lists 987 trails, being 652.3 km in total length, in the region, of which only 160 km are recognized by the City as maintained multi-use trails); there is no signage on the natural surface trails, providing wayfinding to users and advising as to the level of difficulty of the terrain or natural or installed features; the City takes no responsibility for maintenance or trail development; and the City of Edmonton is not consistent in its internal approach to the promotion of these trails as contributing to Edmontonians’ quality of life and as an amenity to be enjoyed by visitors.

In Contrast

EMBA is seeking support for the following recommendations

1.  With limited exceptions for high traffic areas, the existing network of singletrack, natural surface, trails contained within “Preservation” areas should be designated in the Ribbon of Green plan as “Conservation” trails, open to cyclists

EMBA promotes responsible trail use and etiquette. We believe the system of natural trails should be open for the shared use and enjoyment of cyclists, trail runners, hikers and nature lovers, alike.

Starting with a review of the “Trail Science” page on the website of IMBA (International Mountain Bike Alliance) Canada (https://imbacanada.com/trail-science/ ), EMBA has surveyed the academic literature, which is consistent in the finding that cycling is essentially no more harmful than foot based traffic on natural surface trails, so long as the trails are properly constructed and maintained (a well researched recent example: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/346453660_Effects_of_mountain_biking_versus_hiking_on_trails_under_different_environmental_conditions ).

Therefore, as noted in the conclusion of Natural Resource Impacts of Mountain Biking: A summary of scientific studies that compare mountain biking to other forms of trail travel, by Gary Sprung, referenced on the IMBA Canada “Trail Science” webpage, the decision to exclude cyclists from natural trails that are open to foot based use is a political rather than science based decision.

2.  The Ribbon of Green Plan needs to include a Mountain Bike Strategy, encompassing the Natural Trail System

The strategy should leverage the extensive system of singletrack, natural, trails to promote Edmonton’s quality of life and postion as an urban destination for mountain bike tourism and events.

The trail system should also be properly marked with signage (using the familiar green circle to black diamond icons utilized by ski hills) for wayfinding and user information, and the City’s risk mitigation.

Finally, the City of Edmonton needs to make a commitment to maintenance and appropriate trail development. Presently, all of the maintenance falls to volunteers operating under EMBA’s written Trail Maintenance Agreement with the City of Edmonton. EMBA is the only organization conducting authorized maintenance on the City of Edmonton’s natural trails. 

This Position Paper is being forwarded to all candidates for the Mayoralty and City Council in the Edmonton civic election to be held Monday October 18, 2021.

EMBA will publish any responses it receives from candidates by Friday October 15 on its website and Facebook page:


If you have an opinion on this Position Paper, we urge you to write to or speak to the candidates in your Ward about the Ribbon of Green Plan and the North Saskatchewan river valley and ravine system.

Responses to Position Paper

I think that there is enough room in the river valley for everyone. I agree that the existing single track network should be recognized. We should aim at establishing partnerships with the mountain bike community for trail maintenance and preservation. I understand that the relationship between the City and the mountain bike community has been challenged over the years, and it is time to get past impasse and get to solutions that will serve and support all involved.

Council Candidate for pihêsiwin

Tim Cartmell

I want to thank you very much for reaching out with your recommendations and research. I have two school-aged boys who love to go biking in our river valley, and I recognize the immense beauty and benefits of our amazing river valley system. I believe firmly in making decisions with many perspectives and all the information I can gather, and your concerns and recommendations will help guide me if elected. I do not feel that I have enough information at this point to make promises on one way forward, but I agree wholeheartedly with the points you bring forward here. I want to make sure that mountain bikers can enjoy our trails.

Council Candidate for Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi

Rhiannon Hoyle

Hello and thank you for the chance to review your policy paper. I have also heard concerns on this topic from Ward residents while door knocking. I certainly appreciate how much these trails mean to mountain bikers in our city. I commit to you that should I be elected, I will work with EMBA and other interested

Council Candidate for Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi

Scott Johnston

Thank you for sharing your concerns with the proposed "Ribbon of Green" River Valley Area Revitalization Plan. I am very much looking forward to having the opportunity as a Councillor to see this plan come to fruition over the next few years and in doing so ensuring that our River Valley remains the amazing cultural, environmental and community asset that it has been. When I have friends and family visit who have never been to Edmonton, they are constantly shocked at the size and beauty of the river valley and I agree. My family are avid cyclists and we pop in and out of the river valley as needed to get around our community, so I understand the value of being able to continue to do that (though I must admit we tend to stay on the paved pathways).

Concerning your specific issues. I can commit that I will listen to and support the need for further conversations between your organization (and others) and the city's administration to ensure that we can find a workable solution that allows your organization to continue to use the trail system, continue to maintain as you have been the quality of the trails, and continue to do so with little environmental impact. During my door knocking I have spoken to a number of your membership about responsible stewardship and how we can ensure protection of the valley for future generations.

Council Candidate for papastew

Michael Janz

Thank you very much for contacting the campaign office of Michael Oshry. We appreciate you sending us this information.

Michael is very supportive of the mountain biking community and has met with a few groups that share this interest. He will definitely be reading this information you have provided.

Mayoral Candidate

Michael Oshry Campaign Team

I agree, We need your help to make sure that the City of Edmonton does not close the river valley system to mountain bikers.

Council Candidate for O-day'min

Mohammed Migdady

Hey Mountain Bikers

Thank you for your work. Thank you for reaching out. If I am elected Mayor please contact me and I will look into your concerns. I would like to hear the other side of this story too before making a decision and right now unfortunately I am super busy with considering so may other concerns from folks. As well as your work with EMBA I hope you are considering some other problems we face like how can we speed up our emergency response to the climate emergency, deal with the pandemic and house the homeless.

Mayoral Candidate

Brian (Breezy) Gregg

Thank you very much for all the work you put into the river valley trail system as well as your position paper on the ribbon of green. I agree 100% with everything you have said and as an avid user of the single track trails in Edmonton I can attest to the accuracy of the statements provided. Not only will I work hard to ensure we can keep the existing trails, I also believe that as the city grows it is important to expand the trail system. I also will try and work with the city manager so that they stop removing bridges and features from the trail system and perhaps we can have a formal alliance and get some funding towards a more extensive system.
Once again thank you for all that you do.

Council Candidate for Sipiwiyiniwak

Derek Hlady

Thanks for reaching out. First of all, I'm disappointed but not surprised that the City did not perform their engagement process for the Ribbon of Green strategy. I have spent the last few days reading through the information, and can see that the single-track use was a big miss in the Ribbon of Green strategy. If it's a safety concern, a maintenance concern, or some other reason, I'm sure that an agreement can be made with biking users and foot users for these systems. The trails already exist so it makes sense to me that on-trail cycling be allowed to continue on these trails. It is disingenuous of the City to exclude mountain biking and EMBA from the Ribbon of Green completely considering your group has been maintaining the trails on a volunteer basis.

I support #1, with the addition that if there are sensitive ecological areas, that those would be excluded from the mountain biking network. This would be on an exception basis.

I also support #2, that the City needs to include a Mountain Biking strategy within the Ribbon of Green system. Some real, tangible engagement on this piece would be a great way to kick it off!

Council Candidate for papastew

Susan Field