Ambitious fundraising campaign pitched for realization of Okanagan rail trail

Image Credit: Okanagan Indian Band

VERNON - Greater Vernon politicians have been told it will take a community to build the legacy of a 50 kilometre rail trail from Coldstream to Kelowna — and it’s no overstatement. 

Those working on the trail, which will follow the old CN Railroad, have proposed an ambitious fundraising campaign for the $7.86 million required to build the path, including roughly $200,000 in banking fees for handling donations. The current plan is to pay for the construction of the trail without using tax dollars. Roughly $1.2 million is being sought through grants.

Brad Clements, with the Okanagan Rail Trail non-profit organization, told the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee today, April 18, "it takes a community to build a legacy."

“We believe we can do it by inspiring all of the community,” Clements said.

The team will be looking to businesses, clubs and organizations to help champion the trail. Donations will be handled by the Community Foundation of the North Okanagan and the Central Okanagan Foundation.

“The key to raising the $7.86 million is that the entire community embraces this,” Clements said. “That we have champions in every community out creating excitement around the trail. That we have campaign partners hosting events, and raising awareness, and that we talk to our neighbours and our neighbour’s neighbours.”

Clements says 30,000 donations of $225 a piece would be needed to accomplish the fundraising target. Depending on participation, Clements believes it’s possible to meet the goal in two years.

Details about the construction timeline and overall look of the trail were also presented at Monday’s meeting. Andrew Gibbs with the Inter-Jurisdictional Team, which represents the municipalities of Kelowna, Lake Country and the North Okanagan, said the goal is to open the trail up for public use as early as possible. That will mean focussing on basic trail functionality items first, and integrating things like public washrooms and interpretive facilities in the future. At the outset, the trail would feature crushed and compacted gravel with the possibility of paving it in the future. Planners are also proposing to widen the path to 4.6 metres to accommodate various users travelling in opposite directions.

The plan is to build the trail all at once, rather than in pieces, once the funding is in place, Gibbs said. That will help minimize the risk of ending up with incomplete sections if funding dries up, resulting in some communities having finished sections of trail and others lacking.

Committee member Mike Macnabb expressed some skepticism about the fundraising campaign, stating he thinks it could take years to come up with the cash.

“My concern was how quickly we can get to that point? Because if it’s going to be raised by public donations, it may take a long time to get there,” he said.

Having purchased the trail alongside other municipalities, Macnabb says the regional district has an obligation to see the plan through.

“At what point are we, as local government, responsible to pick up the shortfall?” he said.

Rail trail planners are meeting with other jurisdictions today, and say as soon as they have approval from all local governments, they will launch the fundraising campaign and begin accepting donations.

Committee chair Juliette Cunningham applauded the Rail Trail group for taking on the fundraising campaign.

“I just think it’s incredible. So, we have to do whatever we can to work with you — that’s a lot of free labour to raise a lot of money,” Cunningham said of the volunteer-run group.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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— This story was corrected at 12:15 p.m. April 19, 2016, to say the total cost of the trail is $7.86 million, which includes roughly $200,000 in administrative fees for handling the donations. 

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