You’ve just biked 140 kilometres in a few hours. You’re coming to the final stretch: a small, country road that dances along beautiful, grassy hills, forests and a small stream running through a field. Feeling simultaneously relieved and awe-struck by the natural beauty, you feel ready for the last 20 km of the ride when suddenly, your handlebars start rattling up and down like a jackhammer from the rough road you’ve found yourself on.
This is the scenario that Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan event organizer Jonathan Wornell is concerned about.
When the Ministry of Transportation performed sealing on a section of White Lake Road last summer to extend the road’s life, it used the lowest grade sealant containing large-grain rock chips, explained Wornell, leading a very bumpy ride for cyclists.
“We’ve had several locals and people who sort of support the event call us to tell us that road is very, very rough,” he said. “It’s concerning for me that riders may come away with a negative experience of the region based on their experience on that 20 km of the road. It’s the last 20 km of the road. Not the first, which they can forget about.”
The Granfondo will be having its second annual race on July 8. Last year’s race saw more than 2,000 people coming to the region to compete, as well as generating about $2 million for the local economy.
This huge boost to tourism and the local economy could be threatened by this concern, said Penticton Coun. Andrew Jakubeit.
“If people feel it has provided a negative experience for them and they choose to ride elsewhere, then we lose potentially the economic impact the event has for our community,” he said.
Fellow councillor Garry Litke echoed Jakubeit’s thoughts.
“In fact, this road is more than a transportation corridor,” he said. “It’s a recreation facility and a training facility for riders coming from around the world to ride this, so we should try to look at having the facility having a little higher standard.
“They come there with their families for a week or 10 days, and they provide a huge boost to the economy,” he said.
He also said he would be open to a possible partnership to upgrade the road’s surfacing.
“If the contractor could move a bit, if the province could move a bit, maybe we’d be willing to move a little bit as well,” he said.
These issues were raised to the provincial government through letters and discussions with Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff.
However, Rowena Tansley, president of the Penticton and Area Cycling Association, said through an email she has heard varied reception to the road, and assumes there would be varied responses from those visiting from out of town.
However, she also said, “PACA would like to see the South Okanagan as a destination for cycling. If (we) want to market ourselves as a cycling destination, then it makes sense to have high-quality facilities. This requires planning in terms of road maintenance, resurfacing, rumble strips (another issue), bike lanes/paved shoulders, and signage.”
This sort of planning is what is being requested by Jakubeit as well. “Maybe they don’t have to do gold-plated pavement, but maybe there’s a happy medium where it’s still a smooth surface for everyone,” he said. “That was the intention of the letter, to see if they could do anything in the short term, but more realistically, to ensure that future improvements and maintenance is done to a better standard.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation said through email that, “In the case of White Lake Road, the ministry is considering additional surfacing in future years and will look seriously at concerns raised by the regional district, however, economics must be a consideration.”
While nothing will be done this year, Wornell said if there were too many complaints about the road, the Granfondo organizers would look at changing the route.
“It may not be as a beautiful route, but at this stage we’re working with what we have this year,“ he said.