Lake Country council says allowing horses on the Okanagan Tail would create conflicts with pedestrians and cyclists, so it has banned them from the popular recreational corridor. —Image: Carli Berry/Capital News

Petition launched in Lake Country to let horses use the Rail Trail

Riders, upset by their local council’s decision to ban horses, want the move reversed

The District of Lake Country’s decision to ban horses from the Okanagan Rail Trail is not sitting well with some riders.

A petition is circulating in the municipality aimed at having the district council rescind the ban it imposed earlier this month.

The two women behind the petition, Deborah Battrum and Jo-Ann Furneaux said they would like to gather 1,000 signatures over the next few weeks before presenting the petition to council.

“I think the trail should be open to everybody,” said Furneaux, who added she loves the rail trail and currently uses it to walk her dog, who she keeps on leash. “To take it away from (horse riders) is really unfair.”

But she said she has seen unleashed dog running on the trail and that could be a problem not only for horses, but for pedestrial, cyclists and other dogs. She said she did not think that there would be any conflicts between horses and other trail users if all dog owners obeyed the rules, kept their animals on leash and picked up after them.

Battrum, who operates the Old Friends Canada horse rescue in Lake Country agreed.

She said most people like to see horses on local trails. And she said responsible riders will dismount to deal with any droppings from their animals. She said basing the argument against horses because of manure “ignorant.”

Battrum came up with the idea for the petition because the district did not consult the public about the horse ban prior to approving it earlier this month.

“I’m very angry with the local government,” she said.

She pointed to Mission Creek in Kelowna as an example of a local trail that allows horses without any problems.

And the issue has generated plenty of debate on social media.

“It’s sad that domestic animals aren’t allowed pretty much outdoors anymore … is (that) what it’s coming to…not just here but everywhere,” wrote Candace Dawn Breeze on Facebook. “Like the petition says, Mission Creek (Greenway) still allows horses. Why not out here?”

But while opening the trail to horses has its supporters, opponents are also speaking out.

“After all the thousands (of dollars) and time spent compacting and smoothing the trail, I would think that the shod horses would quickly break it up,” wrote Evelyn Harding. “Also, know how many use the trail with bikes and dogs (sometimes loose). The last place I would want to ride would be on that trail.”

Earlier this month, Lake Country council voted to ban horses from its portion of the trail and also to require all dogs using it be on leash.

The horse ban was not unanimously supported by councillors.

Mayor James Baker said he would like to see horses allowed on sections but felt the risk of conflict with cyclists and pedestrians outweighed the benefits of that option.

Much of the debate over allowing horses on the Okanagan Rail Trail appeared to centre on the animals defecating on it.

Some said if horses are allowed, they should have to wear “parade” bags to catch any droppings.

Rider, Odette Baumgartner said she would love to be able to ride on the trail.

“We don’t need to leave piles. We can use the shoulder,” she wrote. “Horses only need a one-foot wide path to walk on. We are super happy (and) considerate of trails wherever we ride.”

Others expressed concern about the surface of the trail.

“I think their horseshoes will tear up the trail especially when there has been a good dumping of rain,” wrote Donna Wood. “I love living here and seeing horses walking around but they don’t belong on the rail trail.”

The petition, circulated last week, is currently at a number of location throughout Lake Country, including the Woodsdale Store, Ace Hardware, a bicycle store, the farmer’s market and a hardware store. Both businesses are located near the Rail Trail. An employee at the Woodsdale store said Monday the petition there already had many signatures on it.

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