"I THINK WE'RE ALL IN AGREEMENT NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, THERE WILL BE A COMMUNITY PATHWAY"
VERNON - Brad Clements remembers sitting around his kitchen table over a year ago, discussing the odds of a rail trail on the decommissioned track between Vernon and Kelowna becoming a reality.
“We thought it was only a 20 per cent chance,” Clements says. “There were so many obstacles. But we said, even 20 per cent is better than zero.”
Clements launched the Citizens for an Okanagan Rail Trail initiative, which went on to collect almost 10,000 emails of support from the public. The group attended numerous town hall meetings, and funded a study into the benefits of converting the corridor into a recreational trail.
Because the route traverses several different municipalities, purchasing the land had to be an inter-jurisdictional effort; never easy. But this week, a coalition of local governments from Vernon to Kelowna signed a purchase agreement with CN Rail.
“We need to acknowledge the incredible work the municipalities have done. These are different government bodies that have come together to find a common ground to work through some tremendous challenges and figure out how this could work,” Clements says. “CN has also worked very hard to make this deal and deserves a lot of credit.”
In exchange for the land, CN will get $22-million and a charitable donation receipt for land donation—considerably less than the purported $50-million original asking price. CN is expected to remove the railway infrastructure by the end of 2015.
While we don’t have a rail trail just yet, Clements says everything is on track.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Clements says.
While the purchase agreement has been signed, municipal spokespeople say no final decision has been made on how the land will be used. Kelowna’s community planning and real estate director Doug Gilchrist said the deal protects the corridor for various short and long-term forms of multi-modal transportation and that public consultation will likely guide how the land is used.
“The right-of-way is very large in some areas. I’m sure there are other uses they (municipalities) have in mind. There could be road expansion, or a number of other things,” Clements says. “But I think we’re all in agreement no matter what happens, there will be a community pathway.”
A small portion of the corridor—about one kilometer—goes through Okanagan Indian Band land on the Duck Lake Reserve. Another much larger chunk runs between Oyama and the Vernon Army Camp on land that used to be part of the Commonage Reserve. Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis says the reserve was established in 1877, and subsequently taken out some years later. He says it was never lawfully surrendered or otherwise lawfully taken.
Clements is eager to support and work with the band to figure out what’s best for their community, and how that will fit into the bigger picture.
“I think it’s just a matter of sitting down with the band and finding a solution,” Clements says.
The Citizens for a Rail Trail are now shifting some of their efforts to raising funds for the actual construction of the trail when the time comes.
“We’ve got to get organized. We’ve reached out to other rail trails to understand construction and maintenance,” Clements says.
“It’s going to be a key cornerstone of our community forever now. We’ve preserved this beautiful corridor for hiking, walking, lake access that’s going to link Kelowna, Lake Country and the North Okanagan.”
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