Most roads get people to and from their destination but the stretch of highway between Winfield and Oyama could soon be the final stop for Okanagan residents and visitors. A world-class recreation corridor is the latest idea for the well-travelled eight kilometers of Highway 97 running along Wood Lake.
With the new highway detour set to open in June the existing road will be freed up from heavy traffic and re-purposed as the Pelmewash Parkway. The hope is one day down the road, cyclists, pedestrians and tourists will all be able to explore the lakefront at a leisurely pace.
Lake Country Councillor Jamie McEwan says the first step is downgrading the highway to a local road and reducing the speed limit to 50 km/h.
“Right off the bat it's very important that we slow it down so people don't bypass,” McEwan says. "We want people to slow down and enjoy the community when they come into it.... Then we need to study the traffic impacts: are people actually following the speed limit and what kind of vehicles are using the road?" he says. To figure this out small rubber tubes will be laid across the road, measuring the speed and class of vehicles that run over them.
Since the announcement of the parkway back in November Lake Country residents have had amply opportunity to share their thoughts on the project.
"I have heard a lot of people want park space, they want a multi-modal path safe for pedestrians and cyclists," McEwan says. "But they are very split on access to the lake and very split on the treatment of the road overall."
For now McEwan says the plans are still fluid and "there's also the potential for it to be all park space."
Today small rest stops scattered along the highway are used by people who want to park and put in their fishing boats.
"They're mostly smaller boats and some people just pull off to rest there," McEwan says.
Wood Lake is a world-class Kokanee fishery and the new parkway would have to protect the riparian habitat while also opening up business and tourism opportunities in the area. "I hope we can find a balance where we can do both,” he says.
"It would be amazing to have a lot of park space that provides economic development opportunity for local businesses," he says. This could mean little pocket parks, public art installations as well as a visitor's centre.
"It has a lot of potential to provide positive cash flow for our community."
Locals have just as much to gain from Pelmewash Parkway, McEwan says. "I think recreational opportunities for the area are the biggest opportunity for us – for locals to enjoy and have access to that area like they've never had before.”
Lake Country director of planning and development Mark Koch agrees.
"It's beautiful Okanagan lakefront," Koch says and points to some local inspiration for the plans.
"People have definitely pointed to Peachland as a good example," he says. "They've done a great job with their lakefront."
Before Pelmewash Parkway is up and running, the plans must go to the provincial legislature in Victoria to transfer the road into the hands of the Lake Country municipality.
This comes with a heavy cost as Lake Country will now be financially responsible for any upgrades and modifications to the road.
"We are going to be paying for this stretch of road now and we have to determine how we are going to maintain it," McEwan says.
"Roads are one of our biggest costs in the municipality, just adding sidewalks is a huge cost that needs to be phased in over time," he says.
Just how long before the parkway is completed?
Surveying and landscape work will reveal more details, but it could be another 20 years before Pelmewash Parkway becomes the recreational hotspot it's destined for.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250)718-0428.