Now that Kelowna, Lake Country, Coldstream and the Regional District of North Okanagan have bought the former CN Rail corridor through the Okanagan, it will be up to the public to pay for its development into a full recreational trail.
Kelowna city staff say a fundraising campaign will be undertaken by the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative, a group out of Vernon, to raise the millions of dollars it will take to improve the trail beyond the initial gravel path the local governments intend to provide as an initial measure.
The fundraising plan, along with work undertaken by a consultant hired to develop a plan for the 50-kilometre long former rail corridor, is to be forwarded next month to the three municipal councils, the regional district board and the Okanagan Indian Band, which has joined the inter-jurisdictional development team dealing with the rail trail project.
Kelowna’s Andrew Gibbs, speaking on behalf of the team, said the work currently underway is to determine what the trail should eventually look like and how much it will cost. That will include alignment and what sort of surface the trail should eventually have.
Last year, after a long negotiation, the local governments paid $22 million for the disbanded rail corridor, buying it from CN Rail.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said while the top priority was to secure the rail corridor for future use, any expectation that the full trail would be built “overnight” was wrong.
“Legacy projects like this just don’t happen overnight,” he said.
Basran said the initial work on the trail would be a starting point, and more work will be done as funds become available.
Still, he admitted the rail corridor trail project is one he and his council have heard loud and clear that the public is behind.
Gibbs said now that the rails have been removed from a majority of the corridor by CN, there remains some clean-up work to be done by the company and a grading of the former rail path. That is expected to be done by this summer.
Rails also need to be removed from street crossings along the route, which stretches from Kelowna to Coldstream.
The four-metre wide gravel path to be initially installed is expected to allow for the future installation of an asphalt surface later without a great deal of costly site preparation. That work is expected to start once CN has completed its mitigation work.
In addition to the fundraising for development of the trail, the local governments and the OKIB are hoping to attract federal grants for the project.
Public open houses will be held next week in Lake Country (March 14), Kelowna (March 15), on the OKIB reserve (March 16) and in Coldstream (March 17) to gather input for the planing of the new trail.
Construction is not expected to start before the end of the year.