By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
After over a decade of planning, phase 1 of the Link Pathway had its long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony on June 13 at the construction site in Coaldale.
The $5 million project has been in the works for over 12 years. Phase 1 of the bike path will see the paving of the 3.4 km stretch of pathway running from the Malloy Drainage basin toward Highway 512 (Jail Rd). Once complete, phase 1 will be a roughly eight kilometre out-and-back trail linking Coaldale’s existing bike pathway network with what will eventually lead into phase 2 of the pathway. The remaining 11 km will pick up at the Jail Road toward the City of Lethbridge.
Getting the Link Pathway project greenlit for construction was made possible through the collaborative efforts of the municipal governments of Lethbridge, Coaldale and Lethbridge County, along with various community members and organizations. Over 100 guests gathered at the phase 1 starting point, just west of Coaldale Nurseries to break ground and witness the many years of work come to fruition. The event welcomed community members to join in the excitement, and speeches were made by city officials, community leaders, and project stakeholders. Finally, a ceremonial groundbreaking marked the start of construction.
In addition to the Link Pathway Committee, collaboration between the St. Mary River Irrigation District (SMRID), Lethbridge County, City of Lethbridge, Town of Coaldale, residents and community members, landowners, and federal and provincial bodies were needed to make the project possible. Chair of the Link Pathway Committee, Henry Doeve told attendees, “It is a very exciting day. It has been a long time anticipated and I am really proud to be a representative of this committee,” and said breaking ground on phase 1 of the pathway is a result of, “community collaboration, community consultation.”
The cost to complete phase 1 totals $400,000, with paving set to wrap up before winter 2023. The timeline for phase 2 is not set in stone, and will depend on funding, but Doeve said the committee is anticipating the completion of phase 2 by the fall of 2024, and will require the construction of an underpass beneath Highway 512. The pathway will connect to the City’s bike pathway network, and offer access to one of Lethbridge’s tourism anchors, Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens.
Vice chair of the Link Pathway Committee, Alvin Fritz called the pathway a, “gold opportunity at a time when pathways are actually becoming a pretty exciting thing,” with pathways emerging between tourist destinations like Banff and Canmore, and connecting urban centres like Calgary with its bedroom communities like Chestermere with safety and experience top of mind for path users.
Mayor of Coaldale, Jack Van Rijn, told reporters that getting the project off the ground has been a long time coming.
“Today is a day that is going to go down in history and our council and the previous council that was a part of this right from day one— we are all very excited.”
Van Rijn commented the pathway’s proximity to the Birds of Prey Foundation site offers further opportunity for the Town to market themselves as a tourist destination, with a unique amenity which will provide users with, “safe access to idyllic landscapes and a chance to learn about the local and regional economy as they travel through some of the most productive agricultural lands in the country.”
“For us, the Birds of Prey is an anchor for our community from a tourism point of view, and to have (the site) as the starting point, or ending point will bring much more needed tourism to the Town of Coaldale, and Birds of Prey,” and added the Town, “firmly believes that traveling along the pathway will become a ‘must-do’ for tourists in the region.”
Following the completion of phase 1 in 2023, and the anticipated completion of phase 2 by the end of 2024, the committee will then shift focus in 2025 to implementing “soft infrastructure” such as planting trees and other beautification efforts including educational signage and benches.