OYAMA - Converting the rail bed between Vernon and Kelowna into a multi-use pathway would drive over $3 million in visitor spending in the first year alone, states a consulting report on predicted benefits.
The Okanagan Rail Trail held a press conference Tuesday morning in Oyama to release the findings of a 70 page impact assessment conducted by West Coast CED, Lions Gate and Peak Solutions consulting firms.
The rail trail is estimated to bring $3.47 million in visitor spending and $1.17 million in employment income in its first year of operation, continually rising after that to as much as $7.1 million for visitor spending and $2.4 million in wages in ten years.
The study looked at other rail trails in North America and in Europe to measure the economic, health and community benefits such a path has to offer.
“Because the corridor connects so many places of work, of study, and recreational places where people live, they believe it will encourage lots of people to get out and walk or bike to their destination where they didn’t have that before,” says Brad Clements, with the rail trail initiative.
Canadian National is currently in negotiations with a company interested in re-opening the railway, but that window ends next week and the line will then be offered to federal, provincial and municipal governments over a four month period, and finally to private buyers. If no deal is reached to reopen the line, the rail trail group is hopeful government will come together to buy the land and preserve it as a corridor.
Clements says the railway, which at the most has just over a 1 per cent incline, would offer an accessible recreational and transportation corridor to everyone—people in wheel chairs, parents with strollers, athletes and families.
Vouching for the idea is Paralympic skier Josh Dueck, who says it would be an ideal place to train, spend time with his young family, and take in the natural beauty of the Okanagan.
“I do a lot of cycling in the summer months to keep in shape for the winter and I really, honestly believe I’m playing russian roulette when I’m on the roads because there’s just not a lot of room (for) cyclists,” Dueck says.
He’s visited rail trails elsewhere in the world, and says it would be a “tragedy if we miss this opportunity.”
“It’s literally the all-inclusive activity that the Okanagan can offer,” Dueck says.
If successful, the rail trail initiative would involve paving certain stretches and laying crushed gravel on other areas. The path would be wide enough to accommodate both cyclists and walkers.
Clements says other rail trail communities in Banff and the Kootenays reported visible improvements in health.
“We spoke to a doctor there who said his patients were physically getting better after the trail was put in,” Clements says.
Of the roughly 50 kilometer route, half is on the lake and that would make it a world class attraction, Clements says.
“It’s pretty hard to beat that in terms of a walking or cycling path,” Clements says. “This would be one very special trail in the world.”
For more details, or to view the report in its entirety, visit the Okanagan Rail Trail website.
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