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HELSTON: A rail trail might be easier than we thought

Charlotte Helston is a reporter with InfoNews.
August 08, 2014 - 7:01 AM

While the scenic, lakeside railway between Vernon and Kelowna rolls closer to being put on the market, the fact remains there’s not much prospective buyers could do with the property.

The land, which carves its way through several Okanagan communities past lakes and parks, comes with a few strings attached.

The City of Kelowna has its section, made up of 45 individual parcels, zoned as a mixture of park, industrial, public service utility and agriculture, and has said it will be updating its official community plan to protect the integrity of the corridor within its boundaries. The District of Lake Country has its entire tract zoned as park land. The District of Coldstream has its stretch designated as a transportation corridor in its official community plan and has taken steps to ensure it remains preserved that way in the future. 

Local councils hold all the power when it comes to rezoning land. They have the final say on whether the status changes, and if it doesn’t meet their vision for the community, they have the right to refuse it.

Given the current zoning, the Okanagan Rail Trail group has proposed a fitting use for the land: A recreational corridor linking communities with each other and with the spectacular environment around them.

A similar initiative is underway north of Vernon on a different section of discontinued track. The old Canadian Pacific line between Armstrong and Sicamous went under years ago and efforts are underway to preserve it as a greenway. Time is up for federal, provincial and municipal governments to purchase the land and it’s expected the line will soon be put to market. It appears that corridor is also zoned for transportation uses.

Because of the zoning restrictions, the land could, theoretically, be sitting on the market for a long time, vacant and presumably accessible as a trail. You may wonder, why should government purchase the land when it could be used for free?

Aside from there being no guarantees about the future preservation of such a unique and attractive greenway, simply leaving the land vacant isn’t ideal.

Canadian Pacific has started ripping out the train tracks between Armstrong and Sicamous as part of its discontinuance process and I recently checked the terrain out for myself. Meandering past farms and tourist attractions, all on a flat grade, the route was extremely inviting, yet it held so much more potential. Owned and managed by local municipalities, the route would be maintained, signed and protected from vandalism. It would be an international draw, not just a nearby resident’s best kept secret.

If local governments across the Okanagan and Shuswap work together, a rail trail connecting the old Canadian Pacific line in the north, the former Kelowna Pacific Railway in the Central Okanagan, and the Kettle Valley Railway in the south is even possible. But it’s not going to happen on its own. If we want it, we need to let our mayors, councillors, MLAs and MPs know. The time to speak up is now.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infotelnews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infotelnews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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