Okanagan Rail Trail in need of a spring cleanup - InfoNews

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Okanagan Rail Trail in need of a spring cleanup

A section of the Okanagan Rail Trail is pictured in this undated photo from the Okanagan Rail Trail's Facebook page.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Okanagan Rail Trail Society
April 05, 2019 - 4:00 PM

KELOWNA - Stretches of the Okanagan Rail Trail, especially through Kelowna, are in dire need of a cleanup as the trail enters its first full year of use.

“We do need to get a handle on it and get it tuned up,” Andrew Hunsberger, the City of Kelowna’s urban forestry supervisor told iNFOnews.ca. “It’s going to take time.”

There are a number of factors that make the Kelowna section of the 50 kilometre trail along the old CN Rail line more prone to abuse. One is the fact that tens of thousands of people used the trail during eight months in 2018, despite the fact it didn't officially open until Sept. 27.

Another factor is that some of the Kelowna section runs through industrial and commercial areas.

“Lake Country and Coldstream, they have some pretty nice stretches of natural areas,” Hunsberger said. “(Kelowna's) section of the trail is more commuter. There seems to be a lot of people riding it to commute to and from work, to the university and to the airport.”

Along much of the stretch from Spall Road past Sexsmith Road are the backs of buildings, some of which have debris laying around that can blow onto the trail. Letters will be sent to those businesses asking them to help with cleanup efforts.

“We have a lot of transients who use that corridor,” Hunsberger said, noting the city tore down an old barn recently “that was a really disgusting site.”

Abandoned shopping carts are a frequent sight, especially on either side of the McCurdy Road crossing.

In the summer, it’s not unusual for the city to remove four to five campsites a day along the corridor, Hunsberger said.

Plus, until recently, there were few garbage cans or dog bag stations along much of the 10 km stretch from the Apple Bowl to the airport.

That’s changing with the addition of garbage cans near Sexsmith and the UBC Okanagan overpass this week. A portable toilet will also be set up near Sexsmith.

“We really didn’t plan to put garbage cans in at the start,” Hunsberger said. “We wanted to wait and see because we don’t want to spend a lot of money and put a lot of stuff out that’s not really going to be used. This year is going to be a good measure of that. We’re going to have a lot more people with eyes on it.”

He noted that Knox Mountain Park, which is close to being garbage free, has 32 garbage cans so it takes some work to make sure they are emptied regularly.

The new cans on the Rail Trail will be wildlife proof but also have small openings to discourage people from dumping their household garbage.

But it’s not just the Kelowna section that needs some clean-up.

“In Lake Country, last weekend, a community member did organize a clean-up,” said Matt Vader. “We look at this as a community partnership. Using public facilities, there is some responsibility of users of it to help maintain and bring those facilities to the standards that we all expect.”

Vader, a District of Lake Country employee, has taken over from the City of Kelowna’s Andrew Gibbs to head the committee of local governments that bought, developed and manages the trail.

There are garbage cans and dog bag stations in Lake Country and to the north, with staff patrolling daily, Vader said.

“We are working our best,” he said. “From the acquisition to now, this has exceeded everyone’s expectations in terms of time lines. We’re trying to accommodate as best we can.”

Counters set up on the rail trail in the Lake Country and North Okanagan stretches registered 420,000 users last year, and although not a very accurate count, it still means there are a lot of people, and their dogs, using the trail.

Trail ambassadors are being recruited by a new Friends of Okanagan Rail Trail society to tell visitors about the highlights and history of the trail. They may also be able to conduct surveys to get some idea of the pattern of use.

The original Rail Trail society raised $7.8 million in donations and grants to build the trail. There is still money set aside to finish the final stretch from Old Vernon Road though to Lake Country. That work isn’t likely to start until next winter as the federal government still needs to transfer title of the land to the Okanagan Indian Band.

There is also money for a new logo that is being designed and “wayfinding” signage will start going up in six to eight weeks. That will include things like distances to road crossings, information on agricultural use along or across the trail, etiquette and historical information about how First Nations used the trail before there was a rail line.

The new Friends of Okanagan Rail Trial society is also planning to fundraise for enhancements to the trail, such as mini-parks, benches and parking.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 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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