Carli Berry/Capital News Oyama Traditional School students hold together the pieces of ribbon that were snipped during the grand opening of the Okangan Rail Trail Thursday morning at the Oyama Boat Launch.

Lake Country students excited to walk the Okanagan Rail Trail

The trail had its grand opening Thursday morning in Oyama

Students from Oyama Traditional School were excited to walk along Lake Country’s section of the Okanagan Rail Trail during its official opening Thursday at the Oyama Boat Launch.

“They don’t have to have cars in their families, they can travel in their community,” said teacher Pippa Dean-Beerman, who added the students walk the trail twice a week.

“I love it, I feel so lucky. I don’t have to take my two sons in my car with me on my way to work,” she said. “We are going to learn so much on this trail. It’s not just about getting places, it’s about learning about the land and if children don’t know about the land in their neighbourhood, how are they ever going to want to look after it?”

The students have been studying a water declaration that ties into the rail trail, she said.

Avid bike rider and trail ambassador Sheila Tansey brought her bike to Oyama for the trail’s opening.

“It’s just really close to my heart and to see the young kids, especially at this age, to do this, it’s like a world of health and being in nature,” she said, with tears in her eyes.

In three years, Kelowna, Lake Country, the Okanagan Indian Band, and the North Okanagan Regional District communities have raised $7.8 million for the construction of the 49-kilometre rail trail using an old CN Rail line.

Lake Country Mayor James Baker said wheelchair charging stations will be set up along the trail, but the district’s manager of strategic and support services Matt Vader said the Okanagan Rail Trail Committee is not there yet.

“We’ll have to work with Fortis, and we don’t know the cost of what that will be,” he said.

He said there is also no update on how Lake Country will pay off Kelowna’s 2.5 million investment in the district’s rail trail land.

The district purchased the rail trail lands through its borders at a cost of $5.2 million, a contentious purchase that went to the public twice in 2015. First, an Alternate Approval Process failed before the district went to a full referendum, which passed in April of 2015.

Lake Country was able to borrow $2.6 million and Kelowna jumped in with the other $2.6, with the understanding the money would be paid back within three years or interest would start to accrue.

READ MORE: Gable Beach and the Okanagan Rail Trail

Despite the trail’s grand opening, three sections of trail remain closed—at the north end near Coldstream; at the south end of Winfield on OKIB land, which the start date for construction has yet to be announced as the band continues to work with the federal government to acquire the old CN rail land; and the start of Kelowna’s section of the rail trail.

More than 300,000 crossings have been documented along the trail, not including Kelowna, said trail ambassador Duane Thomson.

The rail trail corridor was originally purchased for $22 million from CN Rail. The Government of Canada provided nearly $1.4 million through the New Building Canada Fund, and $471,500 from the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program. Trail development also received nearly $1.3 million from Government of British Columbia through BikeBC and the BC Rural Dividend Fund, according to a news release issued by the district.

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