South Okanagan cycling trail efforts fall behind rest of the Okanagan - InfoNews

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South Okanagan cycling trail efforts fall behind rest of the Okanagan

The Trail of the Okanagans Society are working to eliminate three gaps in the southern end of a valley-long Okanagan trail, including a piece north of Summerland at the Fur Brigade Trail.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ The Trail of the Okanagans Facebook page
November 14, 2019 - 5:30 PM

The South Okanagan has fallen behind in the effort to create a valley wide cycling trail, Trail of the Okanagans Society president Don Gemmell says.

“We have the opportunity to connect up between Osoyoos and West Kelowna and join the energy of the groups to the north to create a world class trail over 200 km long. Building our vision will bring estimated annual economic returns to the Okanagan exceeding $50 million. But that takes vision and many groups coming together to make that happen,” Gemmell says.

Gemmell says the vision of a continuous trail connecting Osoyoos to Peachland has been a “hard sell, with many stakeholders," noting the lakeside pathway extension from Sunoka to Penticton as an example of current stumbling blocks.

The first phase of the pathway was completed in 2015.

Phase two will be constructed on a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure right of way, which means they control design options, costing and cost-sharing.

“That design, funded by Penticton, Summerland, the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen and the ministry was shelved after the last provincial election,” Gemmell wrote.

The South Okanagan currently faces two other challenges when it comes to creating a continuous trail between Osoyoos and Peachland, says Gemmell.

One is at Vaseux Lake, where a connection needs to be made along the lake, and one south of Peachland at the fur brigade trail, connecting Summerland to Peachland.

He says it appears funding for highway construction in the Okanagan is not available, adding the ministry has a low budget priority for cycling infrastructure improvements.

That said, cycling appears to be taking off, Gemmell says, pointing to the return of Ironman in Penticton to the new interest in e-bikes shown by baby boomers who want to remain active.

“The problem is, the South Okanagan has fallen so far behind in comparison to the advances and attention to cycling infrastructure development, not just to the north but in so many communities across the globe,” Gemmell says.

Gemmell says if the South Okanagan can’t build the trail, tourists won’t come. The cycling crowd will spend the shoulder seasons in the North Okanagan, Portland, Coeur D’Alene or some other cycling destination.

The successes of organizations and governments in places like Kelowna, Lake Country and Vernon offer good examples of what needs to happen in the south end of the valley.

Gemmell says a market study of users of the Okanagan Rail Trail commissioned by the mayor of Vernon estimated around 100,000 people used the trail this year, but says there could have been as many as 400,000.

The result of all the activity is new business development along the trail in addition to burgeoning e-bike sales in the North Okanagan.

“The Okanagan rail trail is a great success story. The City of Kelowna was the driving force for the property acquisition that got the whole project moving,” Gemmell said in an email earlier this week.

He says the North Okanagan is also pushing forward with the development of their portion of the route between Armstrong and Sicamous. He says that initiative should be recognized for the joint venture that exists between the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, North Okanagan Regional District and the Splatsin First Nations band.

The Trail of the Okanagans is seeking membership in the organization at a cost of $20 for a three year family membership. The funds will go towards supporting trail initiatives.

For more information on becoming a member, go to the Trail of the Okanagans website.


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