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.
The Okanagan Rail Trail celebrated its official opening in September, despite sections of trail that remain unfinished. A new committee was also formed, comprised from the partnering municipalities, which will work towards upgrades along the trail, such as permanent washrooms and wheelchair charging stations.
“In addition to supporting healthy, intergenerational activities and connecting communities, we are confident the Okanagan Rail Trail will become a magnificent tourism amenity adding to the local economy,” said Lake Country Mayor James Baker.
Running from Coldstream to Kelowna, seven kilometres of trail running through OKIB land remains closed as the federal government transfers land from CN Rail to the OKIB.
The date for the opening of that section is still unknown. Sections near the Eldorado Ranch in Kelowna also remain closed.
Lake Country also still owes Kelowna for the city’s investment in the district’s rail trail lands. Since a three year deadline passed for the district to pay off its debts, it is now paying interest on the loan.
A deal was made between the municipalities in 2015, as the district purchased the rail trail lands through its borders at a cost of $5.2 million.
“The Lake Country portion… $2.6 million of that was paid for by the City of Kelowna in exchange for 50 per cent interest in the property, so we have a 50 per cent interest on title in the lands that are registered in Lake Country,” said Kelowna city manager Doug Gilchrist.
The district planned to sell portions of land near Gable Beach to pay off some of Kelowna’s interest in rail trail lands, but that motion was defeated by council after residents fought against it for the conservation of public beach access. Approximately $1.1 million of the proposed sale would have gone towards reducing Kelowna’s interest. But the plan failed when residents rallied for public beach access.
The completion of the trail development is attributed to the community-based fundraising campaign by the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative.
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 Rural Dividend Fund.