Trail work will enhance city’s appeal

The recent cleanup on the forested slopes of the Esplanade above the Penticton Yacht and Tennis Club signals the prospect of better times for a significant, but largely neglected, part of Penticton’s park system.

Thinning and brushing of the wooded areas by Ministry of Forests crews is a welcome start towards enhancing forest health, sanitation and public safety, as well as helping to realize the recreational potential of the Esplanade. This work, complemented with clean up by city parks staff, is a great first step. Recent continuation of the treated area should help deal with the problem of unauthorized camping and attendant sanitation, fire risk and other issues. Plus it will contribute to creating safe and attractive recreational opportunities.

The desirable next step would see formalizing, reducing and improving the present trails which have evolved from random recreational and unauthorized uses. Many of these unorganized trails present safety hazards and contribute to site erosion. The Official Community Plan cites the Esplanade as one of Penticton’s defining features which conserves natural landscapes and resources. However, until trail formalization is complete, conservation won’t be achieved.

To discourage illegal camping the city is reported as relying on more regular RCMP and bylaw officer patrols. Yet there is another viable method — simply improve access for the general public and benefit from their informal surveillance. This “eyes on the street” approach was popularized by author Jane Jacobs, who saw it as key to restoring urban safety. It has been successfully emulated by Citizens on Patrol, Park Watch and similar initiatives. For the Esplanade, it offers a potential win-win, by enhancing both public oversight and recreational opportunities.

Given the features of the Esplanade and its highly accessible location, it is remarkable that no directional sign or clear improved access to this important public open space exists. This approach of passively discouraging public access has clearly not resulted in conservation. This low profile is surprising given that the Esplanade offers sensational lake views from grassy plateaus, plus forested bluffs with dense vegetation, interesting land forms and lake access. Importantly, the Esplanade is a link between the KVR/Trans Canada Trail and Okanagan Lake Park even if current access is rudimentary.

However, with properly improved and managed trails, the Esplanade can serve as a feature in itself as well as a vital link in Penticton’s evolving trail system. This particular link extends from Penticton Creek, bordering downtown, through Okanagan Lake Park, over and through the Esplanade and up the silt bluffs to the KVR. From there hikers can proceed through the cemetery and up to Munson Mountain. Admittedly some simple trail improvements up the west side of Munson would be desirable. Munson Mountain as another defining feature is particularly amenable to being enhanced and potentially expanded as a pedestrian-oriented park, focused on nature and heritage appreciation.

From Munson Mountain a genuine new “urban trail” could link southward, through Redlands, and down the current stairways to Penticton Creek. From there the Penticton Creek trail connects to downtown.

Proposed new trail links could be added to the fundable list in the OCP, replacing the proposed Skaha Lake urban trail which, it appears, is to be incrementally created through setbacks associated with future developments.

In short, an upgrading of the Esplanade could be a key link in a larger loop trail within the city. Additional clearing, trail definition and improvement, site restoration, modest sanitation facilities, signage and completing cleanup near the Yacht Club are comparatively modest investments which open up parkland for safe, appropriate recreational opportunities. Given the OCP indicates Penticton remains below desired parkland standards, an upgraded Esplanade can make a significant contribution.

The challenge now is for city council to extend the excellent start on Esplanade cleanup, make modest investments in trail improvements, and build towards a substantial park/trail loop which would enhance Penticton’s attractiveness for residents and tourists alike.

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