Horses graze contentedly near the Kettle Valley Railway trail south of Summerland. The trail, south of the railway trestle bridge, was once the route of the railway when Summerland had passenger and freight train service. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)

Horses graze contentedly near the Kettle Valley Railway trail south of Summerland. The trail, south of the railway trestle bridge, was once the route of the railway when Summerland had passenger and freight train service. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)

COLUMN: Preserving Summerland’s network of trails

The trail network in our community provides a variety of experiences

Summerland is situated between Conkle, Cartwright and Giant’s Head mountains, all offering unique and exceptional recreation opportunities for residents and visitors.

Other key locations for trails in the district include areas along the lakeshore, Garnet Valley and regional connections to networks such as the Trans Canada Trail (the Great Trail), and the Fur Brigade Trail.

Following extensive community engagement, in 2019 the District released the Summerland’s Trails Master plan (summerland.ca/parks-recreation/trails-cycling-and-sidewalks-master-plans), a document that provides a framework to ensure that current and future trails meet the needs of the community and that they are safe, well-maintained, adequately signed, and have a minimal impact on the natural environment.

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The trail network in our community provides a variety of experiences, from paved lakeside pathways to rugged mountain hiking trails and almost 23 kilometres of trails are publicly-owned.

Add to this distance trails within the district that are owned by others (approximately 43.5 kilometres) walkers, hikers, dog walkers, equestrians, mountain bikers and other trail users have more than 66 kilometres to explore.

Giant’s Head Mountain Park is fully owned by the District of Summerland and is an iconic landmark in the downtown core. In 2020, the district completed the first two of four phases in the Trails Redevelopment Project, an $800,000 undertaking funded by the federal gas tax, provincial rural development fund, the District and the Summerland Rotary Club. These two phases included upgrading 5.4 kilometres of trails, building 2.2 kilometres of new trail, trail decommissioning for erosion control and environmental protection, new guard rails, park entrance improvements, road pull outs, reinstallation of viewing tubes and trail signage.

The Rotary Club of Summerland was a key partner in this project. Not only did the club contribute $126,000 in funding from the proceeds of the annual Giants Head Grind event, they also assisted the district in securing $445,000 from the province.

In September 2020 the district submitted a grant application for phases three and four of the Trails Redevelopment Project. This work includes additional infrastructure upgrades, additional split rail fencing and other recommended measures to encourage users to stay on dedicated trails, and remedial planting and invasive weed management.

In the meantime, while you are out enjoying the trails, please do your part by staying on designated trails and allow Mother Nature to remediate the grasslands. The district is organizing an Invasive Weed Pull event in early summer to assist with natural revegetation; more details in the coming weeks.

In 2020, some district recreation facilities and amenities were closed for periods of time, but Giant’s Head trails remained open, except to vehicular traffic. Last month, council decided to open the roadway to vehicles from noon to 9 p.m. each day except for Sunday. This change allows for continued use of the roadway and trails by as many people as possible, but also opens the roadway to those who cannot enjoy the Park except by vehicular use.

Although COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 Giants Head Grind, this important fundraiser — with some innovative changes — is going ahead in 2021. Visit giants head giantsheadgrind.com for full details.

The District of Summerland has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen for the maintenance of the Trans Canada Trail. And, while only the lower part of Conkle Mountain is district-owned (the trails that go to the top of the mountain are owned by the province,) the work in constructing and maintaining these trails can be attributed to local trail users associations. These are excellent partnerships that assist the district in maintaining these valuable multi-use trails and keeping them safe for all users.

In late April, council received a delegation from BC Bike Race on hosting one day of a six-day race series in Summerland in early October. The delegation stated that Summerland has best-in-class single track trails and is a well-known destination for the mountain biking community. Council directed staff to continue working with BC Bike Race and other stakeholders on holding the Summerland portion of the race on Conkle and Cartwright Mountain trails.

Centennial Trail along Eneas Creek (Peach Orchard Road) and the majority of Summerland’s lakeshore trails and pathways experienced significant damage from the high water event in 2017. The final work work along Okanagan Lake is currently underway; the District is still awaiting environmental permit approvals for the work on Centennial Trail.

Although the district was recently unsuccessful on an application for grant funding, some Disaster Financial Assistance is available and once that amount is confirmed and environmental approvals are in place, Council will determine whether or not to proceed.

As outlined in the Trails Master Plan, there is still much more work to do in improving the district’s overall trail network. But this work will continue because active transportation options help reduce automobile dependence which leads to increased physical activity and improved physical and mental health — all important components of a more livable and vibrant community.

Toni Boot is the mayor of Summerland.

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