With the first warm days of summer the complaints begin: “All that water and so few places to get your boat to it.”
The situation has been exacerbated this year by closure of the regional district’s public boat launch adjacent to Bear Creek Provincial Park on Westside Road.
That launch was located on land owned by either B.C. Parks or Tolko Industries with a short-term lease. It needed more than $100,000 worth of construction work, money which would have had to be funded entirely by the small number of taxpayers in the Central Okanagan West electoral area parks service area, so would have cost each property owner more than $40.
In addition, regional district spokesman Bruce Smith said there was no secure, long-term tenure available on the site to make such an investment worthwhile, so it was closed.
That move has been criticized by one boater who’s a regular user of launches in the area.
Angler Jim Sutherland says not only are there too few boat launches for all the boaters in the area, and those of visitors, but there’s inadequate parking for vehicles and trailers while boaters are out on the water.
And, he says, too often what parking is available is taken up by people without boats who don’t obey signs setting aside parking for vehicles with trailers.
“There’s a major shortage of facilities and there doesn’t seem to be the will (politically) to change the situation,” he commented.
Lake Country Mayor James Baker, who also sits on the regional district board, says it’s all a question of money and where people want their tax dollars to go.
“How many people boat? Who should have to pay for expensive facilities that will only benefit a small group of taxpayers? It’s not a priority for municipalities.
“Okanagan Lake is a provincial playground. The province and the federal government, or tourism or boating groups, should take the lead,” he commented.
The whole issue is bigger than any single municipality can deal with, particularly since it’s such an expensive one, he added.
Sidewalks are more necessary than boat launches, and Lake Country is in dire need of sidewalks. That’s a safety issue, he pointed out. Money from senior governments is needed to provide boating facilities.
For instance the Okanagan Centre boat launch in Lake Country is used by everyone from all around the valley, which is why it’s a regional facility, he noted.
The regional district rebuilt the Okanagan Centre boat launch over the winter, replacing the launch base with three pads and making it wider and longer. There are five spots there for people to park vehicles and 14 for vehicles with trailers, noted Smith, and there’s no charge.
While there used to be signs, he said because of repeated vandalism, they have stopped replacing them.
Cost of all the environmental approvals, environmental monitoring during construction and installation, engineering and construction of the pads was $45,000 he said.
There’s also a boat launch at Coral Beach in Lake Country, operated by the municipality. Baker said the dock was removed because it got all bashed up with commercial use. It should be replaced any time with a new one. However, parking is always a problem there. Both launches are in residential areas, he noted.
In the City of Kelowna, there are launch facilities at Sutherland Park in the north end, but it’s fairly shallow and only suitable for small craft, according to Ron Forbes, property manager for the city.
While there’s deeper water at the Water Street boat launch, there’s limited parking nearby, and there’s a very deep launch at the foot of Queensway, where even sailboats with fixed keels can go in, but again there’s limited parking available.
The Cook Street boat launch is well-used, and has a good-sized public parking lot, where it’s only $5 for the day, but even that gets filled quickly on busy days, and at Cedar Creek there’s an opportunity for cartoppers to be launched.
Forbes notes they haven’t seen much of an increase in activity at their facilities yet this year, partly because of cool spring weather, but also because of the high lake level and more debris on the lake from the high runoff this year.
The fact that the Kelowna Yacht Club opened 227 new moorage slips this year has likely also eased the situation because there are 227 boaters not now needing to launch their boats.
Across the lake, there’s one provincial boat launch at Fintry Provincial Park with a dock, a regional district launch nearby in the community of Fintry as well as one at Killiney Beach, further north along Westside Road.
Just across the bridge from Kelowna, there’s a District of West Kelowna boat launch at Casa Loma, called the John Dupuis launch where parks supervisor Stacey Harding says they have just extended the breakwater and the launch ramps. There is limited parking, for perhaps six to eight vehicles with trailers. It cost about $6,500 for the upgrade, but there are no user feels.
As a trial, he says they have installed a gate there so there’s only dawn to dusk use, to prevent partying in what is a residential area.
The municipality has also dredged out the Gellatly Bay launch, installed new pads and extended the launch ramp to twice its original length as well as flared it out to both sides to accommodate more use.
The retaining wall on the north side was replaced and a boardwalk built above it, and a new floating dock has been installed.
Work ruined the little park adjacent, so Powers Point Park was rebuilt at the same time. In the coming weeks, line painting for parking will be completed and directional signage installed.
The project has cost the municipality $150,000. In addition, there are opportunities for non-motorized boat launching around the municipality, he noted.
Future improvements will be part of West Kelowna’s Waterfront Master Plan.
There are two boat launches in Peachland, at the foot of 8th Street and at the bottom of Princeton Avenue, but parking is also in short supply around both.