VERNON - Now that two former rail corridors have been preserved for public use in the Okanagan and Shuswap, talk is already underway on how to connect them.
The Okanagan Rail Trail and the newly acquired CP Rail corridor are each roughly 50 km long. Theoretically, it means you could travel from Sicamous all the way to Kelowna on a rail trail, but there’s a chunk missing between Vernon and Armstrong, which are connected by Highway 97.
“Right now there’s an active rail line that is not available,” Regional District of the North Okanagan board chair Bob Fleming says of that particular stretch. “So, it would have to be the side of the road, and there’s already been talk about how we might enhance that connectivity.”
He says it would take a coordinated effort between communities, and likely the Ministry of Transportation, but there’s interest in making it happen.
Fleming points out that the City of Vernon has already been working on enhancing trail connectivity to the starting point of the Okanagan Rail Trail at Kal Beach, so the main area of improvement would be from the north end of Vernon to the north end of Armstrong.
For now, there’s still a long way to go developing the rail corridors. Work is already underway on the Okanagan Rail Trail, but municipalities, the Splatsin, and stakeholder groups still need to meet to discuss plans for the Armstrong-Sicamous corridor, Fleming says. One of the main areas that needs to be addressed is how to pay for the actual construction of the trail.
“The money raised was just for the purchase,” Fleming says. “There’s a little bit of income from rents along the lands, but that is relatively minor, probably enough for a bit of maintenance so it doesn’t fall into total disrepair.”
Because the route is roughly the same distance as the Okanagan Rail Trail, Fleming suspects it will be similar in cost for development. A fundraising campaign for the Okanagan Rail Trail is targeting $7.8 million for trail development, of which $4.8 million has already been raised as of July 2017.
Fleming says they are hoping to attract fundraising efforts for the Armstrong-Sicamous corridor as well. It could well be years before the corridor is fully developed as a trail, and while no policies have been implemented yet, the route will likely be “use at your own risk” for now. Partners will be meeting in the next few months to discuss next steps.
Eventually, there is also the possibility of connecting both rail trails with the Kettle Valley Railway in the South Okanagan. It’s an idea trail enthusiasts up and down the valley have been dreaming about for years.
READ MORE: Going long: Shuswap to Osoyoos trail would have global appeal
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