CONSTANCE BAY – A 2.5-kilometre Ottawa River skate trail born out of family time and perfect weather has been a real hit with the Constance Bay community.

The trail winds its way about 30 metres off the shoreline passing many, many river rinks, ice fishing huts and a beautiful view of the Gatineau Hills. It has become a popular location for skaters in the community to slap on the blades and go for a lap or two.

Usually, the river has far too much snow on it for it to possibly be skated upon. This year has been different – a perfect storm of little snow and freezing temperatures. Constance Bay’s Kyle Smith was the first to work on the trail with his all terrain vehicle and plow in December as soon as the ice was thick enough.

“My kids had so much fun skating down the shoreline when the ice froze so smooth before the snow arrived, so I decided to keep a path cleared once the snow started,” Smith told West Carleton Online. “It’s fun clearing it with them also, they have a blast being pulled on the sled behind the ATV.”

Steve Platthy has also been helping plow the trail which is about six to eight feet wide (1.8 metres). He said the original trail was pretty close to some community rinks a lot of the riverside residents build in the winter. So, the two moved the trail out further from the shoreline and now it runs on the far side of several rinks, and several of those rinks have attached themselves to the trail.

Volunteer Steve Platthy on his ATV.
Steve Platthy says it takes “a couple of hourse every couple of days,” to plow the trail. Photo by Jake Davies

When West Carleton visited the skate trail last Saturday (Jan. 9), there were several skaters, in family bubbles, well spaced out, using the trail. Beyond the trail was the growing ice fishing community. Some shacks were just heading out, others already secured for the hard water fishing season. There were some cross-country skiers and even a couple of kite-skiers on the river as well. A winter wonderland.

Smith says on a good day, he will spend three or four hours on the river with his girls. Smith says he has made the odd trail before, but never to the extent of this year’s. Weather plays a big role as well. For example, Platthy said, if there was a storm of 20 centimetres or more, his ATV and plow might not be able get through. If the snow didn’t hold off during the early days of the river freezing, the ice wouldn’t have frozen smoothly enough to make the trail skateable. So, they will enjoy it while it lasts.

“The beauty is, the sun is so nice and warm, it melts the ice a bit during the day,” Platthy said, taking a break from plowing to speak with West Carleton Online. “I live on the water so it’s really easy to see when it needs a plow.”

Platthy, has lived in Constance Bay for 33 years. He says this is the first skate trail he remembers.

“My wife loves it,” Platthy said. “She loves having a rink. It’s not just the skaters. People are walking the trail too. It’s Canadiana. With COVID-19, it’s good for mental health. It’s good to get out.”

Platthy says when he’s working on the trail, he usually does four passes.

“It takes a couple hours every couple of days,” he said. “If we get one of those big storms like we always do, I might have to shut it own. I’ll try, but if it gets too hard to plow. Everyone is enjoying it so much. I hope we can do it for years to come.”