Trail of the Okanagans plans set for public consultations

Artist's conception of a multi-use trail between Penticton and Summerland.
— image credit: Submitted

Plans will be rolled out Saturday in Penticton for a new bike trail that may one day run the length of the Okanagan Valley, but some local politicians have concerns about what it will cost and how it will benefit their communities.

The Trail of the Okanagans volunteer steering committee is currently sorting out how to open up a multi-use pathway to connect Osoyoos to Summerland and beyond in a bid to attract tourists, particularly well-heeled cyclists with money to spend.

“We really believe there can be significant impact on our economies,” committee chairwoman Connie Denesiuk told the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen last week.

“Each of you can look around your communities and you know things are not necessarily rosy. And anything we can do to improve the shoulder seasons up and down the valley, let’s do it,” she said.

The trail is expected to take advantage of existing routes where possible, but there are notable “pinch points,” such as through the Gallagher Lake area north of Oliver and between Penticton and Summerland.

Denesiuk said she has a received a preliminary estimate of $750,000 to build “a small section” of the Penticton-Summerland connector along the lake on the east side of Highway 97.

“We would want to work that down,” Denesiuk said of the cost estimate. “That’s what we’re doing is we’re finding ways to make something excellent work.”

The group has said previously it will seek grants from the federal government to help fund trail construction. Obtaining grants from local governments might be more difficult.

Tom Siddon, the RDOS director for Okanagan Falls-Kaleden, noted his organization already has a trails strategy in place that’s focused on improving the surface and continuity of the Kettle Valley Railway corridor.

“So if you’re asking us for a $1 million contribution, it would eat into a lot of other things we have to do,” Siddon said.

Denesiuk noted, however, that her group is not looking for money just yet.

“All that we’re asking for at this point is that you do what you can as an organization to support moving forward,” she said.

The mayor of Keremeos expressed concern his community would be left off the trail, while the mayors of Oliver and Osoyoos said they felt too much focus has been placed on the Penticton-Summerland connection.

But committee member Don Gemmell assured them the end product should eventually include all of the region’s communities.

“Let’s build this one spine, then we’re going to create the demand and then there will be the demand for all of these feeder routes,” he said.

Saturday’s information session runs from 1-3 p.m. in the conference room at the Days Inn with a formal presentation at 1:30 p.m. Speakers will include local government staff and politicians, plus members of the steering committee.

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