Welcome TO Winter parks plan

Toronto to offer 60 km of new trails as part of plan to help people get outside this winter

Winter is more or less upon us in Toronto, and the fact that it also just so happens to be a pandemic means many of us are now spending most of our time cooped up in our tiny apartments with limited options for both exercise and fresh air.

To try and curb the issue, Mayor John Tory announced Wednesday that the city is working on a plan to provide as much space as possible so residents can get outside and enjoy the fresh air this winter.

"Dr. de villa's advice has been clear that you can go to a park on your own, or with the people that you live with, right now," he said during the city's press briefing. "And that is why we have been working as a city to have an enhanced winter parks recreation plan."

Dubbed the Welcome T.O. Winter parks plan, Tory said the initiative will provide a variety of options for outdoor winter activities this year thanks to both new and existing spaces that will be opened and maintained throughout the season.

Residents will be able to make use of 23 toboggan hills and 54 outdoor ice rinks that will be opening for free leisure skating as early as this weekend — weather permitting — with a maximum of 25 participants at a time due to provincial capacity limits.

Tory said he's working to extend the season at 13 of these rinks, with each one operating for 16 weeks in total — as long as the weather cooperates. 

Grenadier Pond will also be open for skating this winter, contrary to what residents were told earlier this year, and the city is anticipating increased demand.

The city is also introducing eight new "snow loops," which are trails for walking and snowshoeing at the city's five golf courses, ranging from 1 km to 2.5 km in length. 

On top of all that, the city will be providing and maintaining an additional 60 km of paved recreational trails and pathways along with all the pathways already maintained in roughly half of all parks in the city as a part of regular winter services.

Tory said there are approximately 100 high-use parks where there is already winter maintenance each year, and the city will be expanding maintenance at 60 of those parks on areas such as parking lots, paved pathways and more. 

All winter trails and pathways will be clearly identified with signage, Tory added.

The city also announced recently that it will be more than doubling the number of public washrooms open to the public in the winter, from 64 to 143. 

A number of outdoor sports courts will also remain open this winter, including 57 tennis courts, and six disc-golf locations will be open beginning Nov 28.

The city is also keeping a wide range of park amenities open throughout the season including playgrounds, fitness equipment, chess tables and more, and High Park will remain car-free on weekends as it has since early on in the pandemic.

Up to 30-plus natural ice rinks will also eventually be available for use, and the city is currently accepting applications until Dec. 31 for community-built and maintained natural ice rinks in city parks. 

New guided outdoor Walk Fit programs will also be available to residents during the colder months, including 45 sessions each week that people can register for online.

Residents will likewise be able to reserve spots at skating rinks this year thanks to the city's new online registration program.

And while a number of spots will still be reserved for those who can't sign up online, Tory is encouraging as many people as possible to reserve in advance to avoid crowding. 

"The City and its residents continue to adapt and respond to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Torontonians made great use of the City's parks and other recreation activities over the summer and we expect that interest to continue through the winter," said Tory in a statement. 

"While the public health advice has been clear – people need to stay home wherever possible – we do want to encourage people to safely get fresh air and exercise to maintain both their physical and mental health."

Lead photo by

Jason Cook

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