COLUMN: Allowing horses access to Okanagan Lake

On rare occasions, disagreements between residents escalate and council must step in to adjudicate.

We all know Summerland is an easygoing place. On rare occasions, however, disagreements between residents escalate and council must step in to adjudicate. Dispute resolution is particularly difficult when both sides come armed with sound arguments and valid concerns.

At our July 12 meeting, Council was asked to settle a matter over whether or not horses should be allowed to cross a patch of public beach on Lakeshore Drive North to access Okanagan Lake. After lengthy discussion, we passed a motion to provide horse owners with restricted access to the beach.

It’s not illegal to ride horses in Okanagan Lake but animals are not allowed on public beaches except where permitted by Council or bylaw.

Summerland horse owners have traditionally used this particular spot to take their horses into the lake to cool off. Over the years, the area has urbanized with the lake being used more for leisure swimming. At times, the two uses conflict.

Council has received much public feedback, both for and against allowing horses into the lake. Municipal staff were asked to research all the environmental, health, and nuisance concerns raised.

The District of Summerland relies on the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations for advice on the environmental stewardship of the lake and on Interior Health on matters of public health. Both agencies said the number of horses accessing the lake was not significant enough to pose a risk.

Both organizations also agreed to continue monitoring usage, water quality and environmental impacts to ensure we have the required baseline data to review our decision in the future. Interior Health will start testing the water at the North Lakeshore location as part of its beach program.

Understandably, nobody wants to swim into a pile of floating manure or have it wash up on shore regardless of whether it’s an environmental/health hazard or not. To address the nuisance factor, Council voted to restrict the hours of permitted horse use to before 10am and after 6pm. In between these times, the beach and water must be left clean and clear for other users. Signage will be posted to inform horse owners of their responsibilities.

One horse owner told Council they were willing to carry nets and bags to retrieve any floating manure. That may sound dubious but nonetheless the onus is on riders to clean up after their horses the same way dog owners are expected to stoop and scoop.

Not all horse owners bring their horses down to the lake, and those who do not may think they are unaffected by Council’s resolution. Inadvertently they are. Like in any situation, the actions of one or two individuals can tarnish the image of an entire group.

Council is providing horse owners the opportunity to demonstrate they are responsible members of the community. It’s now up to them to regulate themselves. Because, at the end of the day, respect is something that’s earned; it’s not something Council or anyone else can give.

Doug Holmes is a Summerland councillor. He will be contributing his thoughts on council matters regularly in the Review and will share the space with his council colleagues. The views expressed by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect council policy.