Okanagan Rail Trail moves from fundraising, construction to governance, maintenance - InfoNews

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Okanagan Rail Trail moves from fundraising, construction to governance, maintenance

Brad Gretzinger stands with his bike on a section of the Okanagan Rail Trail in the undated submitted photo.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative
May 15, 2018 - 6:00 PM

KELOWNA - The Okanagan Rail Trail is ahead of schedule and volunteers have already raised the $8 million needed to construct the basic trail.

In fact, most of the trail has already been constructed and authorities are having a hard time keeping people off those sections.

That’s the good news.

If there is bad news, it’s that a date for the full opening of the trail is uncertain as the inter-jurisdictional development team works to satisfy the concerns of the Agricultural Land Commission where the trail crosses agricultural land in Kelowna and Lake Country. The commission is considering numerous applications to change the use from railway to multi-use trail.

A portion of the trail, located on the abandoned CN Rail right-of-way, crosses the Okanagan Indian Band reserve. The band is in the process of having the right-of-way transferred to its reserve. Band members must then vote to allow the portion to be developed but no date has been set.

Negotiations are also continuing for the purchase from CN Rail of two small sections at either end of the trail in Vernon and Kelowna.

Despite these delays, the inter-jurisdictional team that oversaw the acquisition and development of the trail is now moving to the governance phase, which includes annual maintenance.

“This is a major milestone for us,” director of community planning Doug Gilchrist said.

“Nothing worrisome,” is how Gilchrist terms the obstacles to a full trail opening.

Gilchrist has been named the City of Kelowna’s lead for the governance team and says other communities are doing the same thing.

Once fully formed, Gilchrist says the team will begin looking at how the trail will be maintained and who will pay for it.

While each jurisdiction will be responsible for basic maintenance and upgrades of their own section, larger issues such as bridges or trail erosion will likely need a group response, Gilchrist said.

“I would think there would be some equalization if somebody has a major bridge or something that inhibits or restricts the trail,” he added.

Gilchrist said much will be revealed once people start actually using the trail.

“We’re going to learn from that,” he added. “Does that mean snow clearing if it’s going to be used as a ski trail in the winter? Those things are still being considered.”

One unexpected development was the erosion from last year’s flooding on portions of Kalamalka Lake and Wood Lake. Fixing it cost approximately $1 million.

Gilchrist said the possibility of flooding and trail erosion was considered along with the slope stability in an engineering assessment of the trail.

“We are seeing some anomalies with climate these days, so I suppose anything could happen but I don’t foresee flooding issues for the trail,” he said, pointing to its 100-year history as a rail corridor. “If it floods a little then perhaps we have to shut down the corridor for a period of time, but when the water recedes, we will open it up again."

Slope stability and possible rock falls are more of a concern, he added, one that’s been addressed by extensive rock scaling.

“If you’re running a train down there and it gets hit by a rock, it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “But if somebody riding a bike gets hit by a rock, that’s a different story.”

The CN right-of-way was originally purchased for $22 million by the North Okanagan Regional District, Lake Country and Kelowna. The Okanagan Indian Band became a partner in the trail at a later date.

Read more stories about the Okanagan Rail Trail here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email John McDonald 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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