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Okanagan Rail Trail passing millionth visit mark much earlier than predicted

FILE PHOTO - Kilometre one of the Okanagan Rail Trail in Coldstream, Oct. 20, 2022.

No official counts have yet been posted but based on the usage in the first half of 2022 visits to the Okanagan Rail Trail have surely passed the one million mark.

When the trail partially opened in 2018, the prediction was it could hit the half-million mark in five years, a goal that was achieved in the first year.

From Jan. 1, 2022, to July 31, 2022, counters recorded more than 837,000 people on the rail trail, so by the end of the year more than a million would have been \walking, cycling or been pushed along the route.

The data, posted by the Friends of Okanagan Rail Trail, showed 382,599 people recorded on the northern end of the trail by the Regional District of North Okanagan. Another 375,000 were counted by the City of Kelowna and 79,765 by the District of Lake Country.

FILE PHOTO - A cyclist is seen riding on the north end of the Okanagan Rail Trail toward Vernon, Aug. 14, 2022.
FILE PHOTO - A cyclist is seen riding on the north end of the Okanagan Rail Trail toward Vernon, Aug. 14, 2022.

“The traffic increase we’ve see on the trail is not just cyclists,” Sheila Fraser, co-owner of the Pedego e-bike franchise in Lake Country, told iNFOnews.ca. “It’s families out walking, wheelchairs, baby strollers. Everything’s out on that rail trail. It’s just so great because it’s such a cool way to see the Okanagan.”

Pedego sells and services e-bikes but a big part of their business is rentals. While some take the bikes on a cruise of Lake Country wineries, most hit the rail trail, especially the stretch from Lake Country to Coldstream along Kalamalka Lake.

“Kal Lake is one of the most scenic lakes (in the world),” Fraser said. “Our international renters, they liken it to Lake Louise for beauty. There are very few trails, anywhere, that you can ride the shoreline like you can on Kal Lake. I think that’s what makes it so unique and why it’s a world class destination.”

That destination is being enhanced by a Kilometre Zero plaza that’s nearing completion at the Coldstream start to the 52 km trail. About all that remains to finish it are signs outlining First Nations history in the area.

“It’s going to be a wonderful educational resource,” Laurie Posthill, president of Friends of Okanagan Rail Trail, told iNFOnews.ca. “It’s going to be another step towards reconciliation. It will be telling the story of that area from the indigenous perspective.”

That effort will be expanded with similar offerings at two other “gateways” to the trail.

First up, after a fundraising effort, will be at the new Indigenous Cultural Centre and Nature Park in Lake Country. That will be followed, some day, in the Tugboat Bay area where the trail ends in downtown Kelowna. The logistics of that have yet to be worked out.

There will also be other “wayfinding” kiosks established at smaller access areas, such as the new link to the Houghton Road linear pathway in Kelowna, Posthill said.

The big change for trail users will be the opening of the final 6.4 km between the Kelowna airport and Lake Country, possibly by the end of summer.

That’s waiting for the federal government to finally turn land over to the Okanagan Indian Band. Funding is already in place to complete that part of the trail and a call for proposals has gone out to contractors.

READ MORE: Completion of final section Okanagan Rail Trail hinges on federal gov't approval

“Once the trail opens up through to Kelowna, people can ride from here and go right to downtown Kelowna to go to a pub or check out Okanagan Lake from that angle and then come back,” Fraser said. “They will be able to do that on an e-bike, which is a whole different way of looking at Kelowna and everything else from what you see in the car.”

She’s also keen on the connection that will be made to the Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail that is being built in sections as funding becomes available.

READ MORE: Sicamous to Armstrong rail trail gets $12.5M grant, but millions still needed

“When this trail continues to expand over the next few years, my vision is that there will be glamping sites along the way and all kinds of things you can do with your bikes,” Fraser said. “It will be accessible to all different ages and abilities of cyclists. You don’t just have to be the real athletic jock cyclists to do it. Even people like me can do it because we have e-bikes so we can be comfortable and have a good family time out there.”

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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