What started out as a proposed walking and cycling path between Lowertown and Trout Creek, called the Lakeside Trail, has now grown into a much grander vision.
There is now talk of The Trail of the Okanagans, potentially stretching from Sicamous to Osoyoos.
Paul Barber, representing the Summerland Rotary Club explained that initially the club was looking for a significant project to become involved with.
A fellow Rotarian, Don Gemmell sold them on the idea of the Lakeside Trail.
Before too long word got out and other groups and individuals started showing interest in the plan.
“All of a sudden this vision started to develop. Let’s not think small. Let’s think of the possibility of making a real impact…something that will support economic activity in our community,” said Barber.
Gemmell said this is not just a vision shared by this group alone.
“We had the City of Kelowna visit us and say that they too have the same vision. They brought a map of a pathway that runs from the Shuswap all the way to Osoyoos. Their viewpoint is that it’s very rare that all the communities in the Okanagan region actually get together to do something constructive like this. It is very exciting.”
He went on to say that the local steering group is focussing on Summerland, south, with the city of Penticton also becoming an active part of the committee.
“It has the potential, if we work together, to provide real economic benefit for our community.”
Henry Sielmann with the Trans Canada Trail Society supports the idea.
“There are models that tell you if you brand a trail, if you provide a certain level of collaboration, in a beautiful area, which this valley clearly is, people will come,” he said.
He also explained that there is currently a registered gap in the Trans Canada Trail between Penticton and Summerland.
The society would support anything that would help people get safely from the one community to the other.
“This trail will certainly do it,” he stated.
Ian Lobb, a private citizen, is bringing experience to the table. He has spent a total of 15 years developing cycle tourism around the world.
Lobb worked extensively with the trail system in Ontario, called The Water Front Trail. The project is a 740-kilometre trail that runs through 43 communities.
Lobb said that tourism, now, is more about the experience and that there is exponential growth around cycling tourism specifically. He also said there will be a ripple effect because of the trail, which will bring new businesses and jobs to the Okanagan.
“When this idea was first presented I thought it was just brilliant and something this area needs.”
It has been recommended that all of the loosely associated groups involved, form a society in order to move forward. This process is in the works and the hope is to operate under the name, The Trail of the Okanagans. They have the support of the Regional District and the local Municipality, who have agreed to speak to the Ministry of Highways on their behalf, and have provided them with the engineered drawings required.
Dan Ashton, MLA for the riding of Penticton, is supportive of the proposal made, to start with the short section between Trout Creek and Lakeshore Drive, as the first stage of the trail, and is lobbying on the group’s behalf. Funding for the trail will not come from local taxes, but rather from federal and provincial grants available, as well as from fundraising efforts and local business and individual support.
Gemmell said there is no real time line for the project.
“We would love to put a shovel to it tomorrow, but we know it will take time to have people learn the vision.
There is a high level of certainty if we are able to create this, that there will be significant economic benefits well into the next generation, for the Okanagan.”
The first of many public information meetings, in the communities along the proposed trail, will be held in Summerland at the IOOF Hall, on Saturday, March 22, from 1 to 3 p.m.