Airport Perimeter Trail – Upper Escarpment Trail – The Bridal Path

Aug 11,2014. Calling all crazies: Hit the stairs for a leg-screaming workout.

July 21, 2014. The world's spectacular cliff paths

February 12, 2014. Couple of things to be aware of for this area: there's a push to allow motorized recreation vehicles (atvs, dirt bikes, snowmobiles,...) to use the Millennium Bridge.

July 12, 2013. The people of Whitehorse have a great opportunity to significantly improve our recreational trail infrastructure. Here's some background.

With the city's trail people having trail planning in Riverdale and/or the above-the-airport neighbourhoods to discuss ATV trails and other issues, this seems a good time to bring walking and the escarpment into the big picture.

Among other things, the 2011 Downtown South Master Plan addressed downtown south's recreational opportunities. The report had a number of recommendations such developing the Lower Escarpment Trail, at least up to Main Street, and connecting the Lower Escarpment Trail to the Millennium Trail at 6th Avenue. It also recomended building another staircase, like the Black Street Stairs, up to the top of the airport escarpment.

There does seem to be a bit of rougher use of the area at times, but perhaps this can be blended to a more 'shared' use by revitalization with the lower escarpment trail. As the great observer of public space William H. Whyte once wrote, "The best way to handle the problem of undesirables is to make a place attractive to everyone else."

From the 2011 Downtown South Master Plan

"Rogers Street Stairs: The new staircase (green patch on Google Earth picture to right), will be built around Rogers Street (or Hawkins Street). It will encourage more people to explore the spectacular views from the Airport Perimeter Trail. Like the Black Street Stairs, it will be a popular destination, especially for the many people who like the stair-master form of exercise! The stairs would enable a loop trail of about 2.7 km long (red trail).

A further benefit from the Rogers Street Stairs would be creating positive use of greenspace downtown and putting lots of people out on trails here and up the cliffs. It will also highlight the need for continuing the Lower Escarpment Trail to Black Street, a welcome solution to the maze of bits and pieces of parks, pathways, trails and streets one must currently navigate. "

Ball diamond stairs

My focus with my website is on recreational walking, encouraging people to walk. Since the Rogers Street Stairs would be recreational rather than Active Transportation in nature It makes sense to look at recreational benefits of stairs. I think if the Downtown South planning process had looked at a bigger trail picture, then people may well have had other opinions for a new staircase. While the Rogers Street option will certainly be popular, let's look at an alternative (or an additional) place for a staircase, one that I think will appeal to an even broader audience.

Locating the stairs behind the ball diamonds across from Yukon Energy on Robert Service Way offers a very strategic location for a piece of trail infrastructure. A set of stairs (green patch) here would have a lot of impact in developing a culture of recreational walking. Imagine the broad appeal of incorporating the Airport Perimeter Trail, Millenniuum Trail, the Black Street Stairs and the Rotary Centennial Bridge into a 7.6 km loop trail (red trail).

While the Above-the-airport Trail Task Force suggested cost in the order of $.5 million, a better way of looking at it would be to just build 1 set of new stairs at the ball diamonds using monies earmarked for the Hawkins Street stairs!

Who will use this new trail loop?

As any walker will tell you, a variety of trail experiences is a plus. For instance, Riverdale certainly is blessed with great trails: the hospital-Long Lake trails, Hidden Lakes-Chadburn Lake–Yukon River trails, the Millennium Trail, Grey Mountain. Someone recently told me that in their opinion, Riverdale residents have enough trails and wouldn't see the need for this new loop. But as we've seen from the popularity of the Millennium Trail, the Rotary Centennial Bridge and the Black Street Stairs, people also like a little civilization for some of their walks.

(I was also told by a city employee that people in Riverdale don't use active transportation enough as is. Perhaps because it might be boring to have little choice in getting to town? Would more people cross the Rotary Centennial Bridge to gain access to the airport escarpment, rather than walking 2nd Avenue and crossing the Robert Campbell Bridge? More exercise with two staircases, great views, sense of adventure, away from traffic...)

The Airport Perimeter Trail on the river side provides a different look at Whitehorse. This trail, called the Bridle Path in days past, offers great views of the south end of downtown Whitehorse and out over the river towards Yukon Energy's dam and Grey Mountain, as well as down towards Carcross. The vistas make it well worth the climb up the escarpment. Often, if you're quiet, you'll find yourself looking down on the eagles in the area. This picture from This was Whitehorse in October 1902 is from the Michael Gates collection and shows an early route up the escarpment.

I've had people from both Hillcrest and Porter Creek tell me that they specifically hike the more open escarpment trail because it feels safer than bush trails at the times when when bear sighting become more frequent.

People have told me that it's hard to find variety in their downtown walks. For the growing downtown population, good trails accessible by foot are scarce, especially greenbelt-style trails. The newly paved Waterfront Trail is a nice trail but as yet is only linked to the Millennium Trail. The coming Lower Escarpment Trail will be linked to the Black Street Stairs and the Airport Perimeter trail.

Cheap (free!) recreation is a right. There are few activities as inexpensive as walking and providing a good quality greenbelt trail for downtown seems obvious. Likewise, many tourists who arrive here want the option of inexpensive activities. The 'stay-another-day' concept of tourism will certainly benefit from having a solid greenbelt walking trail, accessible from downtown.

Whitehorse has a strong event culture. We've seen how many events in Whitehorse are using the Millennium Trail route. Imagine events using the Airport–Millennium Trail route. Now think of using the Airport–Millennium Trail–Waterfront–Spook Creek–Lower Escarpment route! Or incorporating the highway side of the Airport Perimeter Trail.Then there's bringing Miles Canyon's Robert E. Lowe footbridge and Schwatka Lake into play. The possibilities are dizzying!

A further audience for longer trail walks will be those displaced by the coming many years of having the Tank farm trails no longer available. With many of the above-the-airport neighbourhoods bounded by an area of wetlands in the summer and private ski trails in the winter, people will be forced to look for new walking adventures. This will be a great chance to develop our walking culture.

How far do walkers walk?

Let's look at the Ball Diamond Stairs from a walker's perspective. What would it mean to people living in Riverdale? It's pretty obvious that Ball Diamond Stairs will draw Riverdale walkers to the Airport Perimeter Trail. Look at this distance map centered on the new Riverdale roundabout (the circles are in .5 km increments). Recreational walkers will often take longer walks if there is a good loop. With our long summer evenings, 1-2 hour hikes are well within many people's evening walking capabilities.

(While the Downtown South Plan proposes a crossing at 6th Avenue, as requested by the city, I drew the proposed trail junction at the round-about on Robert Service Way, but the result looks challenging for pedestrians. It adds ~530 m of walking. How can we make it a nicer experience once we cross the round-about? Is this a trail type issue, or a planning issue, or ...?)

How far do you walk for your in-town walking? Here's a very rough distance map of some city center trails. It covers from Porter Creek to Riverdale's Hidden Lakes area and the above-the-airport to Long Lake. It is obvious that the Ball Diamond Stairs play an important part in our trail infrastructure. This map will be developed further as time allows.

Don't forget that leaving a car at one place for the return trip, using public transportation, meeting a friend with a car for a pickup are ways of having long walks without having to walk all the way home!

Escarpment discussion

Accessing the escarpment: stairs or trails?

It's been suggested that the city's trail crew build a path up the slope at the ball diamonds. Maybe it would work. As many will remember, getting up the escarpment in the winter at Black Street was difficult. The ways up were variations on tricky, icy climbs. Likewise in rainy conditions, patches of slippery mud made travel treacherous. The Black Street Stairs with its expanded steel steps put those issues to rest. Between a solid handrail and the grippy steps, the staircase is usable almost all the time.

Another problem using a trail to ascend a high, steep slope is well illustrated by the trail up the slope near the Fish Ladder. The trail gets blown in and slippery in winter. It doesn't encourage regular use. The Black Street Stairs seem to be able to resist snow problems, again making it usable in most conditions.

Protecting the Airport Perimeter Trail

Putting in Ball Diamond Stairs would focus more attention to the trail situation along the escarpment where erosion will soon require discussion with the Airport authorities about moving their fence away from the edges in some places. The 1999 Airport Development Plan recommended that there should be a 6m setback of the fence from the escarpment edges — obviously this is not happening.

A 1959 report, The Whitehorse Escarpment comissioned by the federal government, warned that attention had to be paid to the escarpment edge to stop erosion problems. It noted that most of the damage started about 15 years after the start of extensive use of the escarpment for buildings and roads. In addition to removing existing buildings on the escarpment side of the airport, the report recomended planting trees to rehabilitate the area; it also recomended ensuring no human interference with the escarpment slope. A 2009 City of Whitehorse project, Black Street clay cliff restoration work to rehabilitate some of the slope by the Black Street Stairs, seems to not be working. Perhaps a new attempt needs to be made.

2010 OCP 9.1 "There shall be no airport related development within 30 metres from the top of the escarpment adjacent to the airport. The only exception within the setback is the provision of a perimeter trail."

The city's new Downtown Whitehorse Escarpment Control Zone continues to warn of inappropriate use of the escarpment.

Motor vehicle use is also a problem that needs to be addressed. Rippers on the Bluffs talks a bit about this.

Engineering safety of stairs

The Black Street Stairs seem to be twisting and sliding downhill in parts (October 2013, maintenance of stairs likely addressed this). While the situation is likely under active observation by the city, does it mean that there could be a similar problem with the Rogers Street Stairs? Perhaps the slopes at the ball diamonds offer an easier situation for long-term maintenance?

Winter activities

Snowshoeing is becoming a very popular winter activity these days. Having an official snowshoe trail on the escarpment will certainly promote heathy living. Given the inevitable windblown snow that can cover a trail in winter, snowshoeing would be an excellent winter use! Having this a completely motor vehicle-free trail would be a goal.

If the Airport Perimeter Trail can be restored to the recommended 6m width, then a ski trail would also be an obvious addition.

The Ball Diamond escarpment area

Over the past few years as the motocross use of the end of the airport area increased, we've seen continuing trail/escarpment breakdown. This past year, people have been digging up the ascent trail with shovels. Putting stairs here will help stop the vehicle use.

Note that the trail along the edge of the escarpment towards the Alaska Highway also needs to be brought back from the edge a bit to make it safe for years to come. The views are spectacular and people will continue to use the trail. Let's make it a better/safer experience.