The Okanagan Rail Trail will benefit the community like similar trails have on southern Vancouver Island.
Jeff Ward, the former manager of planning, resource management and development for the Victoria-based Capital Regional District (CRD), sees the Okanagan Rail Trail as an incredible regional asset.
“It really helps to define the community and is very positive for residents,” said Ward, who lives with his Vernon-born-and-raised wife in the North Okanagan eight months of the year, presenting on trail benefits to the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) board of directors.
“It needs a governance and an organization structure that will be responsible for the administration (of the trail).”
Ward – who worked at RDNO as a planning student in 1979 – spent 30 years working in parks and trails across the country before retiring in January 2016.
He said CRD regional trails are managed by CRD Parks, who oversee 101 kilometres of contiguous regional trails, the first of which was established in 1987.
The trails include the Galloping Goose (55 kms, 20 km urban and paved, 35 km rural and gravel); Lochside (29 kms, 12 km off-road of which eight km are paved, 17 km on-road with shoulder bike lane); and the E&N (17 kms, all paved).
The trio of trails had an $850,000 operating budget in 2017 and drew an estimated 3.7 million visitors to the region.
“The regional trails connect communities and provide many outdoor recreation opportunities and an alternate non-motorized transportation network,” said Ward. “The network facilitates active, healthy lifestyles for people of all ages and abilities by providing opportunities for recreation and active transportation.
“We work together to create and maintain regional trails as greenway corridors that accommodate a diversity of users. The Capital Regional District promotes respect among users and supports positive experiences for all.”
A residential survey of the regional trails last year showed 91 per cent believe the trails are quite or very important, which has risen from 78 per cent in 2005, with the Galloping Goose being the most visited trail.
Ward feels the Okanagan Rail Trail has the ability to achieve similar numbers.
“It will attract people from eight to 80 and provide cycling and hiking that is safe and enjoyable for all,” he said.
Ward suggested having key visitor facilities in place to help visitors have a quality and memorable experience by providing a great surface that is maintained, access nodes that are welcoming, secure parking, a toilet, information signs and rest locations, pull-offs at scenic spots and swimming areas.
He also recommended connecting the trail as part of Okanagan Valley cycling, hiking and outdoor experience.