Friday, September 25, 2009

GUARDIAN REPORTS ON SKATING TRAIL UNVEILING

Skating trail glides ahead in south Etobicoke

TAMARA SHEPHARD
September 24, 2009

Revised city plans to build a nearly $2-million ice skating trail in Colonel Samuel Smith Park drew quiet contemplation this week rather than contention.

Long-standing opponents had charged the plan is an intrusion on the lakefront retreat, an argument first raised in 2006 in a protracted battle against a controversial, now defunct, plan to build a skateboard park on the site.

But none of that was in evidence this week.

An open house unveiling by city staff Tuesday night of revised trail drawings moving the skating trail mostly out of the meadow drew few residents.

The revised city plans call for construction of a fully accessible 260-metre linear trail 4.6 metres wide in a figure eight configuration southwest of the park's Power House. Earlier plans, hotly contested by many residents, to build it north of the Power House where a woodlot is located, has since been abandoned.

"The end result works much better," Morteza Behrooz with PMA Landscape Architects said in an interview. "There's a tree planting plan for the whole area; a pond will be created. We'll be introducing new habitat to enhance the area's ecological value."

Project bids closed Sept. 11. The construction contract is expected to be awarded within a month.

"We're looking to break ground this year. We'll do the preparatory work. In spring, the job should be completed," said Daniel McLaughlin, project manager of construction operations, capital projects, with the city's parks, forestry and recreation department.

Recreational outdoor winter skating would begin in December 2010.

Resident Ian Bruce said he'd be lacing up his skates. He skates similar outdoor trails in Brampton, Scarborough, Harbourfront and on Ottawa's Rideau Canal.

"I think it's a nice concept. They made a good decision to abandon any plans to build it north of the Power House," Bruce said. "I have some concerns about conflicting uses with the natural environment, birds and wildlife, but I think this is the least damaging location."

Some residents questioned whether a community advisory group would be struck to plan the future vision of the lakeside park.

Fifteen months ago, Ward 6 Councillor Mark Grimes adamantly opposed Friends of Sam Smith Park (FOSS) membership on any committee. Grimes charged the group is "politically active" and said "nothing is going to happen there" if FOSS was involved.

A Grimes' staffer said Tuesday there is currently a moratorium on new parks' advisory committees while the city determines new terms and conditions that govern them.

"It's better than the original plan," former area councillor Irene Jones said of the new skating trail drawings. "Next, they need to plant the meadow and protect the trees in the park. The Power House needs a use. This is a good use."

But New Toronto Good Neighbours' founder Jem Cain isn't convinced.

Cain, who intends to run against Grimes again in the 2010 municipal election, argued the $2 million could be put to better community use.

"There are lots of other needs, repairs that need done to park equipment where hundreds of families would get the benefit year-round," Cain said. "There's also now free Saturday afternoon skates year-round at the new arena."

Earlier this month, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment officially opened its new MasterCard Centre for Hockey Equipment one kilometre north of the ice skating trail site on Kipling Avenue.

The new 30,000 sq. ft. Maple Leafs' and Toronto Marlies' practice arena is open to the community 250 hours a year, the result of MasterCard funding.

Community use hours include free family skates every Saturday; free open skates for students on professional development days, as well as free ice time from September to June for community groups.

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