Trail of the Okanagans wants to go international | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Trail of the Okanagans wants to go international

This fence cuts off access to West Kelowna from Goats Peak Regional Park because the trail behind it is on private land. It's a major gap in a proposed Trail of the Okana-ogans.
February 28, 2020 - 7:00 AM

A new coalition has been formed to expand the Okanagan's growing cycling/hiking trails south by another 170 kms — into Washington state.

The group, made up of trail activists, First Nations and civic leaders from B.C. and Washington State, held its second of what are becoming monthly meetings in Osoyoos on Monday.

They came up with the Trail of the Okana-ogans moniker to recognize the two different spellings for the valley and river system in each country – Okanagan in Canada and Okanogan in Washington.

The focus on the Canadian side is to fill the gaps between the existing Okanagan Rail Trail from downtown Kelowna to Coldstream, north to Sicamous, and south to Osoyoos.

An abandoned rail line was purchased by local governments but has not yet been developed from Armstrong to Sicamous.

South of Kelowna, there are numerous barriers where travel can only be done on busy Highway 97, especially between West Kelowna and Summerland, then along Vaseux Lake. That covers about 200 km.

Joining with trails south of the border all the way to the Columbia River at Brewster, WA would make the route 370 kms long.

The idea is to create an interactive web map that focuses on a trail built mostly along abandoned rail lines. The site would have links to offshoot trails that, for example, link to the West Kootenays. That would be a tool to prod local governments into contributing money towards completing the trail.

“These things are sort of like dominoes,” Don Gemmell, president of Trail of the Okanagans Society, told today. “If you look at our maps you will see there are gaps (in various trails). Which ones are going to be filled first? We need efforts like this to help us bring communities together to fill these gaps.”

While the group’s efforts are just beginning and there is no funding, Gemmell has touted the economic benefits of such a trail before.

What’s crucially needed for this plan to succeed is an economic impact study since some communities along the route don’t see the economic benefits so are unwilling to share in the costs, Gemmell said.

He noted that Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming’s company, before he was mayor, did an economic analysis of the impact of the Okanagan Rail Trail. Those projections have already been exceeded while businesses are starting to market themselves as being “trailside.”

The Trail of the Okana-ogans coalition plans to meet again in March.

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