Spending a lazy summer afternoon floating down the Okanagan River Channel is a little more expensive this summer.
The $2 environmental levy being implemented by Coyote Cruises is aimed at improving the channel experience for everyone, cleaning up the channel, the walkway beside it, the landing zones and maybe even some shade tree plantings.
Coyote Cruises is a Penticton Indian Band-owned company that provides both tube rentals and lake to lake bus service for people floating down the channel. Anona Kampe, one of the directors of the company, estimates that about 100,000 people from all over the world take the popular trip each summer. A majority of the people who float the river channel bring their own floatation devices, beverages and food, with the packaging from those items often winding up in the river.
The idea of an environmental levy, Kampe said, is not a new idea.
“Even before us it had been discussed, but nobody knew how to just get the ball rolling,” said Kampe. They took it first to the PIB administration and then to the City of Penticton, earning the support of both councils. Permission for a fence — intended to help collect the levy even from those not using Coyote Cruise services —- at the cruise starting point was denied.
“We had thought perhaps erecting a fence would get the traffic to go right through past the cash registers, but the fence was denied by the City of Penticton. “I understand, erecting a fence in that area might not be cosmetically pleasing.”
Kampe said they are proceeding with the levy regardless.
“I would pay $2 myself to use the stairs, for the convenience,” said Kampe, noting that the channel is not easily accessible except at their starting point.
“If people are that upset about the $2 levy for the environment and they want to jump in down the way, then so be it,” said Kampe.
Coyote Cruises understands that this initiative might be unpopular since floating the river channel has always been free for the floater, provided they use their own floatation device and transportation. However, the levy has the potential to generate a substantial amount to care for the water and the land.
“We are the stewards of the environment,” said Kampe, explaining that the funds would be used to help refresh the landscaping at the pickup points as well as keep the river channel and walking path on the western side clean.
“The pickup point is pretty shabby looking, the one at the very end near Skaha, the asphalt is coming up in the parking lot. The weeds are out of control down there, the landscaping itself just looks run down,” said Kampe. “When you are first coming into Penticton from that side and people are driving by, it looks pretty run down. We want to update the landscaping and beautify the area, and also in the halfway point as well.”
They will be looking into bag dispensers to try to deal with the large amount of dog feces on the walking path as well as talking with a local diving club to help clean up the channel bottom. Kampe would also like to see some trees planted at locations along the west bank as the city has done on the east, which would provide shade areas for spawning salmon and kokanee.
“These are all the ideas we are throwing around,” said Kampe, who added they still need to lay out a strategic plan and consult with stakeholder groups, like the PIB, the City of Penticton or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “We’ve got all these great ideas and it is just a matter of getting them done now.”