Organizers working on a plan to connect the entire Okanagan with an off-highway trail suitable for walkers and cyclists are pinning their hopes on some help from Ottawa.
“For us to achieve a local benefit, all of the communities must come together to work together with the federal government for infrastructure funding,” said Don Gemmell, the driving force behind the so-called Trail of the Okanagans.
About two dozen people turned out Saturday in Summerland to hear from Gemmell and others about the concept of the trail and challenges that lay ahead.
The route is proposed to make use of mainly existing pathways to create a three-metre wide continuous route from one end of the valley to the other, although there are a few gaps to fill, like along Highway 97 between Summerland and Penticton.
Gemmell estimates the price of constructing that section of the trail at a minimum of $1 million. Startup costs would likely be smaller south of Penticton.
“The distance, as the crow flies, between the SS Sicamous and Osoyoos is approximately 60 kilometres, and most of the trail and rail bed is in place except for approximately three to four kilometres through Gallagher Lake,” he said.
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, one of the local governments working with Gemmell’s group, is already in the process of applying for tenure on that stretch.
“Once they have acquired that access, then the real development of the old rail beds and bridge replacements can take place,” said Gemmell, who began advocating for the project after a cycling tour in Europe in 2008.
Kelowna city manager Ron Mattiussi, who attended Saturday’s meeting, told the crowd that related work is also well underway in the Central and North Okanagan.
He said his city and neighbouring local governments are preparing a bid to assume control of the now-defunct Kelowna Pacific Railway line and turn it into a trail that would extend north to Vernon.
Mattiussi also noted the federal government has hinted at a fresh round of infrastructure funding in 2015, and a quarter of that cash is expected to be awarded to regional projects.
“Things like regional trails are perfect, because it’s very difficult for one municipality to fund a trail,” he said, adding a multi-use pathway that encourages active living and economic development would make for an attractive funding request.
Gemmell has another meeting planned for April 26 at the Days Inn in Penticton, the city he said would receive the most economic benefit from trail tourism in the South Okanagan.
Penticton “is the hospitality centre right now,” he said.
“However, people that ride on these pathways rarely travel more than about 40 kilometres per day… and industries will spring up along the route to meet the needs of cycle tourism.”