One hurdle cleared for Okanagan Rail Trail movement

Part of a potential Okanagan Rail Trail - Contributed
Part of a potential Okanagan Rail Trail
— image credit: Contributed

Discussions with the private interested party have now come to an end and CN Rail will be offering the old Kelowna Pacific Railway line to the federal government for purchase. They will have a 30 day window to respond.

Should the federal government not purchase the line, it will then be offered to the Provincial government, followed by the municipal government, both will have 30 days to respond.

And a retired UBC Okanagan history professor and life-long Lake Country resident says the big winner in a potential Okanagan Rail Trail linking Coldstream and Kelowna is the District of Lake Country.

Duane Thomson, a member of the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative, says a potential trail along the old CN Rail line would be a huge boost for Lake Country in a number of ways.

"The big winner in this would be Lake Country," said Thomson. "We have the vast majority of the lake front that the rail line runs along. If you think about the loops that it would open. You would have Pelmewash on the west side of Wood Lake and the rail trail on the east and north side. You have a world class loop in terms of running or cycling. You have lake shore that is pristine and previously inaccessible."

The potential for a rail trail on along the old CN Rail line became a possibility when the Kelowna Pacific Railway folded last year and CN Rail began the abandonment process.

Thomson says a new trail could be used to re-invent Lake Country, giving the area a major tourism boost.

"It would be a wonderful draw," he said. "This has the potential of creating Lake Country as Lake Country. It's going to fulfill that name. It could brand us as a world class cycling and hiking destination. It would boost our restaurants, bed and breakfasts, our museum and art gallery. It would attract tourists that are typically recently retired, pretty wealthy, world travelers. If you can bring that type of visitor into your community for a few days that's huge."

Thomson says if you combine the rail trail with the Pelmewash Parkway Lake Country could have an incredible trails network.

"Pelmewash was gifted and that's seven kilometres along the lake that has turned into a local road," he said. "If we can somehow arrange to purchase the rail bed, this would be two pieces together: Pelmewash on the west and the rail bed on the east and north end of Wood Lake. That would create a wonderful trail."

Thomson also pointed out several other benefits of the proposed rail trail including the cleaning up of the Oyama Ismus, the land between Kalamalka and Wood Lake and the ability for future infrastructure along the rail right of way. In addition to the UBCO and the Kelowna International Airport just on the outskirts of the district, he says this could potentially revitalize Lake Country. And he hopes politicians from the federal, provincial and municipal governments can all work together if given the opportunity to acquire the rail line.

"Ideally this would be a joint project so that the three levels of government will negotiate with CN and somehow divide up the cost," he said. "It could be such a positive development that politicians could gain support for doing this. They would be remembered for stepping up to the plate and acquiring this for the Okanagan. This would be a wonderful legacy for the community and for the politicians."

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