Economic development on two wheels

The South Okanagan has the opportunity to create a world class bicycling pathway.

Last month I wrote about the economic benefits that can come to our community via shopping local and how the availability of industrial land makes it possible for businesses to expand and move to Summerland.

This month I’d like to turn the spotlight on a different kind of economic benefit – the kind that comes from enhanced recreational opportunities in our region.

At the Visitor Centre we see requests regularly for information about biking and hiking trails.

A study released in February by the U.S. Outdoor Industry Association states that the outdoor recreation industry is an overlooked economic giant and that Americans spend twice as much on it than they do on cars or pharmaceuticals – $646 billion to be exact.

Here in the South Okanagan we have the opportunity right now to create a world class biking pathway to rival tourism destinations in Europe or the United States.  Groups throughout our region have been working on this pathway for some time and are on track to complete this project.

Building on existing infrastructure the Okanagan Lakeside Multiuse Pathway Project will allow bicyclists to travel from Osoyoos all the way to Kelowna on trails connected from existing Okanagan River pathways, old rail spur lines, existing pathways in Peachland and West Kelowna and the Trans Canada Trail.  The Trans Canada Trail Committee and Trails B.C. intend to fill in the gaps in these trails by 2016.

Interestingly two key gaps are in Summerland – the stretch between lower town and Illahie Beach and the lakeside between Sunoka Park and Penticton.

The Rotary Club of Summerland is spearheading the efforts to close these gaps and the necessary experts in engineering, environment, etc. have identified cost effective ways to create these paths.

The first stretch can be completed this year with the Sunoka to Penticton portion completed next year.

I see that as a Craigellachie moment.  History proved there that joining Eastern and Western Canada via rail was good for the economy.

Closing the loop in the Okanagan will be good for our economy.  Portions of the trail will go right through downtown Summerland on Victoria Road.

In Germany where the world famous Lake Constance bike route is located, 400,000 bikers each year use the trail.

More importantly, the trail can be used from March into November, giving our region a huge boost in the shoulder seasons.

Much of the information here has been provided by Don Gemmell from the Summerland Rotary Club.

He states, “as this project achieves its potential, it will energize our hospitality industry, boost wine tourism and provide us all with world class recreational opportunities”.

Evidently economic development takes many different forms.

There is a part for all of us to play in improving the economic climate of our town.  This project involves two regional districts and at least six Okanagan communities.

Let’s support it.

We always appreciate your feedback.  Please contact me at  manager@summerlandchamber.com or our chamber president, Arlene Fenrich, at  president@summerlandchamber.com .

Christine Petkau is the Manager of the Summerland Chamber of Commerce.