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Potential Okanagan Rail Trail would be big economic boost

Paralympian Josh Dueck and Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative director Sean Cameron try out a portion of what could be the Okanagan Rail Trail, depending on what happens with the future of the Kelowna to Coldstream rail line. - Kevin Parnell
Paralympian Josh Dueck and Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative director Sean Cameron try out a portion of what could be the Okanagan Rail Trail, depending on what happens with the future of the Kelowna to Coldstream rail line.
— image credit: Kevin Parnell

Members of the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative were joined by a Vernon Paralympian Tuesday morning as the group released an assessment on the impact of converting an abandoned stretch of rail line between Kelowna and Coldstream into a recreational trail linking Vernon and Kelowna.

The group, which has volunteers from all communities that the rail line goes through, including Kelowna, Lake Country, Oyama and Vernon, is hoping the old Kelowna Pacific Railway line will be turned into a trail. It would pass through 23 parks and 22 points of interest, starting at Kalamalka Lake in Coldstream and ending in the cultural district of downtown Kelowna.

"We've had so much public support and (all levels of) government agree that this would be a great opportunity," said group director Brad Clements. "So many good things could happen if this is turned into a trail."

The impact assessment released by the group highlights major economic and tourism benefits the trail could provide, including:

•12,500 visitors would be drawn to the trail in its first year, bringing in $3.47 million in visitor spending.

•By its fifth year in operation, the trail would bring over 26,000 new visitors and attract 600,000 total users with $6.7 million in visitor spending.

•Employment in tourism and supply businesses would generate salaries totalling $1.2 million in the first year, rising to $2.2 million by year five and averaging $2.1 million for the first 15 years of operation.

The 70-page report looked at other trails in North America and Europe that were created by using old rail lines and points to the health benefits of providing alternative transportation routes in the Okanagan.

"What (the report) found was an increase in the health of the overall residents because people start getting out and using the trail," said Clements. "Right now there is no trail linking these communities so if you are cycling you are going along Highway 97 and it's not pleasant. We're very excited that the report shows there are tremendous benefits to protecting the corridor in the event that it is not used as a railway, and we will know that in a weeks time. If it's not operated as a railway we'd like to keep it as a public space."

Two-time Paralympic medalist Josh Dueck was on hand to support the movement and said it would be a great way for athletes and families to have a safe place to cycle.

"Being an athlete, I think it's a good opportunity to train in safe environment," said Dueck. "I do a lot of cycling in the summer months and I really believe I'm playing Russian roulette on the roads. There are not a lot of safe cycling paths right now."

As part of the abandonment process, CN Rail has until June 2 to sell the land that the rail line is on to a group that would operate it as a rail line. If that doesn't happen each level of government will have a 30 day window to potentially purchase the line.

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