Yukon: A Profile of Promising Practices from Canada and Abroad – Millennium trail

“This project has sparked enthusiasm at both the city and community level for creating environments that are accessible to all.”

Lead Organization:
City of Whitehorse

Key Partners:
Yukon Electrical Company, Yukon Energy, Yukon Council on disABILITY

Community:
Whitehorse, Yukon

Population of Community:
25,403

Setting:
Urban

Target Group:
General population, persons with disabilities

Project Focus:
The planning process focused on community consultation, partnership development, and universal accessibility

Implementation Level:
Local

Stage of Development:
Completed

Background

Although Whitehorse is in a wilderness location, the five kilometre Millennium Trail is a very urban trail that loops through the downtown core of the City. The Trail follows the scenic Yukon River, crossing the river on an 80 metre pedestrian footbridge that was added in 2005. The Trail connects a number of recreational resources including a skatepark, a historical site, a campground and a favourite local water access point known as “the intake.”

The initial concept for the Trail was brought forward by long-time Whitehorse resident, Father Mouchet, who envisioned a trail that would give everyone, regardless of ability, an opportunity to get out and be active.

Today in Whitehorse, there is a growing trend in health considerations being incorporated into planning projects. The Millennium Trail, completed in 2002, was the first step towards providing more accessible built environments within the City. Because of the huge success of the Trail, it has become a feature project that demonstrates how universal accessibility can be incorporated into projects. The Trail has sparked enthusiasm within the community, and at City Hall, for creating environments that are accessible to all. In a sense, the Millennium Trail has been a catalyst, and was indirectly influential in bringing health considerations into future city projects.

One unanticipated spin-off was the striking of a new ad hoc committee called the Persons with Disability Advisory Committee. This Committee has remained active and now provides recommendations to Council on all new developments and capital projects undertaken by the City.

Partnerships

To get partners to the table, Douglas Hnatiuk (Projects and Community Development Coordinator), organized a public meeting in 1999 to introduce the project and invited interest groups to attend. As a result of this initial meeting, a number of partners got on board. By the end of the project, over 200 stakeholders were involved from government, to business and industry, to the recreation sector and local residents.

Two of the main stakeholders, Yukon Electrical Company and Yukon Energy, were new partners for the City and initially got on board as land owners. They also had an interest in public safety because of a dam located on the route, and used this project as a public safety education tool.

Partners were kept engaged throughout the process, as there was a feeling around the table that this project was state-of-the-art and a revolutionary step forward for the City. This feeling of participating in something revolutionary kept people involved.

There was no shortage of feedback, both through formal mechanisms (meetings and consultations) and informal methods. The project generated so much enthusiasm that local residents were dropping in to City Hall and offering photos and brochures of exemplary trails they had visited on their holidays – ideas for the Trail came in from Whistler to as far away as Ireland.


Photo Credit: YG Photo

Generating Buy-In

The biggest hurdle was convincing community stakeholders that the Trail should be paved.  The concept of an asphalt trail was initially polarizing within the community. At an early public meeting that focused on the technical aspects of the Trail (such as trail surfacing, trail width), the concept met with some resistance. There was concern that a paved trail would be environmentally degrading, and it was perceived as an “urban” intrusion into a pristine river environment.

It became clear that there were philosophical issues behind the project that needed to be discussed, such as rights and standards for people with disabilities. The City decided to take a different approach, and launched a public education piece about universal access through a CBC radio call-in show. It was at this point that the City’s approach to the planning process switched from a focus on technical aspects to what can best be described as “heavy duty consultation.” A Task Force was launched with representation from all city departments, City Council, the Yukon Energy Company and the community.

The switch to an emphasis on community involvement and partnership development led to increased buy-in from all sectors, and the community took real ownership of the Trail. This approach galvanized a sense of community within the City and the Trail became a high-profile project.

Ultimately, the Task Force brought forward enough positive evidence to build consensus that paving the Trail was the best option.


Photo Credit: YG Photo

Over time, the benefits and merits of having a paved trail have become apparent. There is less erosion and degradation along the banks of the river, as people are keeping to the Trail. Aesthetics have also improved as native rose bushes and other vegetation have begun to re-vegetate the slopes. Arguably the biggest benefit of all, people of all ages and abilities are now able to be physically active along the river and access the water.

Lessons Learned

For the City of Whitehorse, the Millennium Trail project “heralded in a new dynamic of public consultation.” An extensive public consultation process is now used for all city planning projects including Official Community Plan Reviews and Parks Master Plans.

There is a sense in the Yukon of wanting to do things differently, to be unique, and as a result, the City adjusted and customized some of the tried and true approaches for public consultation. Local citizens want to be sure they are not getting a solution from Vancouver or Toronto – they want to develop solutions that are “customized” for the North. The project has been an overwhelming success, and a recent survey suggests that the $300,000 Millennium Trail is seen within the community as having more recreational value than a recently built $12,500,000 swimming pool.

It has also cemented relationships with partner groups. The City is now considering installing a “Green Gym” with wheelchair-accessible fitness equipment along the Trail and the City will certainly go back to its partners for support. The Millennium Trail has become a showcase.  While it was the first accessible multi-use trail in the Yukon, there is now a large network of paved trails in the area and a new understanding and appreciation for the merits of this type of infrastructure. In a recent public survey, trails were rated the number one recreational resource in Whitehorse, a statistic that has been used to rally political support.

Securing funding resources for trail projects continues to be the biggest hurdle, although gas tax money has helped in this regard. When limited funds are available, trail projects tend to lose out to road or sewer upgrades. Concerned groups and individuals need to make noise to keep bringing active living, and health and wellness considerations back onto the agenda.

If the project were done again, the City would have engaged the Task Force earlier, and forged a strong relationship from the get-go with the major partners including stakeholders and the community, to establish early on that it is the “community’s” project. As it happened, the Task Force was created three months into the project, due to a controversial public meeting. Now seven years later, no one would argue that this trail has done anything but benefit the community.

Advice to Other Communities

For other communities wishing to do a similar project, Hnatiuk recommends meeting and consulting with others who have already undertaken this type of work. While the technical aspects of the project need to be considered, there should be an emphasis on community consultation and partnerships.

Evaluation and Impact

User statistics collected over a period of two years show that the pedestrian passes over the footbridge average 250,000 per year. This kind of result is amazing considering a population of 25,000 in the City. Students have also been hired to survey people on the Trail.

In addition to these statistics, there is ample anecdotal evidence of the health benefits of the Trail. Reams of testimonials flood into City Hall on an almost daily basis: from those who were inspired to take up walking, to temporarily disabled residents who use the Trail as a resource for therapy. Families with children are regularly out cycling the Trail. For the people of Whitehorse, the Trail represents a place where all members of the community can recreate and exercise.

Father Mouchet is also still involved, and although now in his 90s, is still out on the Trail setting an example for all.


Photo Credit: YG Photo

Contact

Douglas Hnatiuk
Projects & Community Development Coordinator, City of Whitehorse
2121 Second Ave
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 1C2
Telephone: 867-668-8662
E-mail: Douglas.Hnatiuk@whitehorse.ca

Resources

City of Whitehorse

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