The Oyama isthmus has the potential to be the heartbeat of the Okanagan Rail Trail, according to two well-known citizens of the area.
The Lake Country Calendar spoke with former Lake Country councillor and Oyama businessman Allan Gatzke and Oyama resident and historian Duane Thomson prior to the first public consultation on the Okanagan Rail Trail, set to take place on Monday (4 to 6:30 p.m.) at the Oyama Community Hall.
At the consultation, Gatzke planned to present a concept for what he is calling the Oyama Spirit Square, a central gathering point on the Okanagan Rail Trail as it passes between Wood and Kalamalka lakes.
The concept calls for a replica train platform, drinking water, washrooms, parking, a heritage park including monuments and displays, a day-use picnic area as well as trail-head for information.
The proposed area is across from the Oyama Firehall and near the community hall, a portion of the corridor that features excess lands and already has a two gravel parking lots and plenty of room for the development, said Gatzke. He pegged the total cost at $140,000 with some in-kind construction donations, money he says could be raised in 12 months by fundraising and grants, outside of what is being raised for the development of the trail.
“It could put us back on the map,” said Gatzke, adding that the relocation of Highway 97 diverted a lot of traffic away from Oyama but the rail trail could be a major benefit in getting more people out to the area.
“The relocation of the highway has been both positive and negative,” he noted. “But Oyama has the potential to be more than it ever would have been had the highway not moved. This type of development is attractive to inbound international tourists and at the same time would be convenient to the community, useful and functional.”
Gatzke said as the rail trail runs between the two lakes in Oyama, it is virtually in the centre of the 47.5 kilometre stretch that runs from Kelowna to Coldstream. He envisions Oyama as a place where tourists could park and begin to explore the rail trail, going north or south.
“This is the middle of the rail trail geographically,” he said. “It could be a place where stories are told about how the Okanagan developed and the role the railway played in the settling and growth and economics of the area. There are economic benefits for Oyama but tourists would find it an interesting place. This is probably the best place for parking (on the trail) and a great strategic location.”
Gatzke pointed to other rail trails in Canada that have built historic information centres that would promote the rail trail and the region. He says his vision is based on the Oyama Sector Plan which was originally put together in the early 2000s and talked about the possibilities of developing the isthmus.
Meanwhile, Thomson, who headed the yes campaign in the rail trail referendum and planned to be at the community consultation as a member of the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative, says of all the places along the corridor, the Oyama isthmus likely has the most potential for development and would be a great starting place for trail users.
“I think it has every potential to become a major attraction,” said Thomson. “It’s a spectacular site. It’s connected to two parks on Kalamalka Lake, it could be connected to a bird sanctuary, there is room for a place to launch boats and for swimming holes. It’s a mile-long beach. I think there could be a lot of low-impact development that would allow Oyama to retain its character which is a positive element. It would be growth in a controlled way.”
While long-term vision is still just that, Gatzke was hoping to raise support for the idea as the public consultation process began with meetings in Oyama, Winfield, Kelowna and Coldstream and with the OKIB this week. He presented his plan to Lake Country council last year but it was deferred at the time. Now the Inter-jurisdictional Development Team is taking its development plans to the communities involved with the initial phase being construction of a gravel trail that will likely open in the first part of 2017.
Once councils in the area approve the initial plans, fundraising will begin, run by the Vernon-based Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative. Residents unable to attend a meeting can provide feedback through an online survey at www.getinvolved.kelowna.ca. Online input continues until Sunday, March 27.
The City of Kelowna, District of Lake Country, Regional District of North Okanagan and the Province of B.C. shared in the investment of $22 million to purchase the discontinued CN Railway line.