VERNON - Efforts are underway in several communities that could eventually lead to the creation of a recreational corridor all the way from Sicamous to Osoyoos.
You might have heard about the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative, a group working to preserve the inoperative Vernon to Kelowna railway. But that group is only part of a much bigger picture spanning at least a dozen communities from the Shuswap to the South Okanagan.
You’ve got the old Kettle Valley Railway in the south and the discontinued Canadian Pacific line from Armstrong to Sicamous in the north. Brad Clements, with Okanagan Rail Trail in Vernon, says there’s potential for a world class trail over 300 kilometers long.
“That’s kind of why this piece is so important,” he says of the section between Vernon and Kelowna. “This is a big chunk that if we don’t get, the whole idea is gone. It’s a crucial part in connecting all these other pieces.”
The vision is shared among outdoors groups and passionate politicians on both ends of the envisioned trail. Penticton councillor and Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen director Andrew Jakubeit says the idea is picking up steam in the political sphere.
“It’s been a topic of conversation at mayors meetings involving Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton, and at our regional district and city council level, so I think there’s more political awareness and hopefully political will to see this come to fruition,” Jakubeit says.
Along the spine of the Kettle Valley Railroad, the South Okanagan needs only to chip away at connection points to forge a continuous trail from Summerland to Osoyoos, Jakubeit says.
“Our control is in the South Okanagan and Similkameen having a robust trail system,” he says. “If we can compliment what the Central and North Okanagan are working toward, I think it will benefit our whole region. It’s yet another draw for people to come to our region.”
There are different challenges in the North Okanagan. Like the piece from Vernon to Kelowna, the future of the old line from Armstrong to Sicamous, which shut down in 2010, remains uncertain. While the line has officially been discontinued, and the window for government to make offers to buy the land has passed, there may still be a way for municipalities to preserve the corridor. Town Halls along the line are keeping mum about any discussions they are having, saying only that there may be opportunities for local government to get involved if and when the line is put out to market.
Phil McIntyre, with the Shuswap Trails Alliance, says there’s definitely interest in the community to create a recreational corridor along the line.
“At every community discussion, the future of the rail line comes up. Ensuring it’s not lost for the future seems to be consistently brought up,” McIntyre says.
He too sees the value of the route not solely in the immediate community, but in its potential to connect with others in the region.
“It is conceptually possible, and it feels like we’re starting to sniff it in the wind,” McIntyre says.
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