Cycle route proposed from Kelowna to Osoyoos

The South Okanagan already has access to some tremendous cycling resources, like the KVR Trail, but there could be more

Don Gemmell would like to see a portion of the Hwy. 97 right of way used to create a cycling and walking path between Penticton and Summerland

Don Gemmell would like to see a portion of the Hwy. 97 right of way used to create a cycling and walking path between Penticton and Summerland

The South Okanagan already has access to some tremendous cycling resources, like the KVR Trail, but groups are coming forward suggesting the possibility of a larger, continuous network.

On March 18 at 6 p.m., Penticton City Council is holding a public hearing, part of the process to amend the new Trails and Cycling Network plan to the official community plan. It’s an extensive plan, which will eventually see the city crisscrossed by cycling routes, interconnecting with trails and major hubs.

It will take years to complete, but others have an even bigger vision for the valley. Summerland resident Don Gemmell thinks it’s possible to create a cycle route through the Okanagan Valley that would connect communities from Kelowna to Osoyoos.

He’s not the only one. Gemmell has already inspired the Summerland Rotary Club to take on the task of creating a cycling path along a kilometre-long stretch of Okanagan Lake shore, between Trout Creek and lower Summerland.

The Gellatly Bay Trail Society is working on a similar project linking south from the Bennett Bridge to Peachland, according to Gemmell, who also recently received a letter of support from the president of the Peachland Rotary Club.

Coun. Andrew Jakubeit of Penticton, who has long advocated the creation of a South Okanagan cycling precinct, is happy to see the interest from these groups.

“It’s positive that we’re getting not just government bodies, RDOS or city, politicians pushing for it but service clubs, maybe potentially tourism operators and associations seeing this as an opportunity, helping to lobby and garner support from the community and all levels of government to somehow make this happen,” said Jakubeit. “If it is a variety of people throughout the community helping push this, then the chances of success are a lot greater.”

Gemmell compares the potential of the Okanagan as a cycling destination to Lake Constance in Europe, which he said draws nearly 400,000 cycling tourists annually.

Jakubeit agrees that the tourism potential of cycling in the Okanagan is under utilized.

I think when you look at anything to do with cycling, the South Okanagan is very well positioned to leverage the opportunity. You have such scenic beauty to be able to ride along the lake, to ride through vineyards, country roads, through the mountains,” Jakubeit said. But we have never really went out and marketed, to say ‘Come here to train, to cycle, recreate and cycle.’ I think there is a big opportunity here.”

Gemmell, who has been working on his plan for more than two years, said the unused right of way along Highway 97 is an ideal spot to connect Penticton and Summerland, closing one of the gaps in the trail network.

“When they built the highway,they did not build the last possible lane, which is beside the lake,” said Gemmell. “We can make a wonderful lake side pathway.”

Groups and throughout the valley are working on linking up trail sections, according to Gemmell, doing what he calls “connecting the dots.” Mark Woods at the RDOS in particular, he said, has quietly been working to facilitate these kind of connections. The regional district recently introduced their own comprehensive regional trails strategy.

“People are coming at this from various angles, but they all want the same thing,” said Gemmell. “Anytime you want to connect up the dots, it is going to give life to all these other projects. “When you increase the activity, there is a bigger payoff for everything that is invested already.“