The first part of the Trail of the Okanagans, a 1.3-kilometre section along the lakeshore in Summerland, is a short but important piece of the proposed trail system.
The trail will run parallel to Highway 97 from Lakeshore Drive to the Summerland RV Park, with completion expected this summer.
Eventually, as the trail expands, organizers hope to have a system linking Okanagan Valley communities.
The cost of the first segment of the trail is $500,000, with $420,000 of this amount coming from the provincial government.
The price is significant and a longer trail will come at a high cost. Funding agreements and partnerships will be necessary. However, there are some important advantages to a regional trail.
The tourism benefits alone are significant. In Europe, eastern Canada and other areas, trail networks draw visitors and help to bolster tourism and hospitality businesses.
A similar trail network here could draw additional tourists to this region.
Equally important, the first phase of the trail will provide a safe corridor for pedestrians and cyclists travelling between Trout Creek and Lowertown, separated from the highway.
The high volumes of summer traffic on Highway 97 have some cyclists feeling uncomfortable and unsafe there. A trail may serve to bring more activity to this part of the community.
Future plans will include extending the trail from Summerland to Penticton and eventually expanding the route to more Okanagan communities.
This adds an important link in regional marketing and promotional opportunities for the Okanagan.
The larger benefits depend on what happens with the first portion of the trail. Once completed, the Summerland segment will serve as an example of what is possible.
With this portion in place, Trail of the Okanagans organizers will have a showpiece as they work to expand.