Rail trail

This Backroad Mapbooks map from the Thompson Okanagan BC backcountry map book, posted on a District of Lake Country website, shows the Okanagan Rail Trail from south of Beaver Lake Road to Kickwillie Loop in Coldstream.

The series on the best Okanagan trails continues with the Okanagan Rail Trail from Lake Country to Coldstream.

It is the ultimate Valley trail for many reasons: it is close to users from Kelowna to Vernon; it is railway grade (usually three per cent maximum) so it is relatively flat and easy for everyone of all abilities and ages; it is separated from congested roads and noisy vehicle traffic; it has two waterfalls and two interpretive sites (still closed); it has an educational aspect with a half-dozen interpretive signs; it has the beauty of Kalamalka Lake known for its spectacular range of colours from teal to cyan to indigo; and more than 24 kilometres (out of 49.5 km) is along lakeshore and creeks with rich riparian habitat that supports a variety of plants, birds and other wildlife.

OkanaganRailTrail.ca describes it as “a place of legacy, connections, discovery and enjoyment. It is a public space with the potential to be world-class.”

However, local governments are requesting that users maintain two-metre social distancing.

At the end of March, the Kickwillie Loop parking lot was closed by the District of Coldstream to encourage social distancing and the Regional District of North Okanagan removed porta-potties since they cannot be disinfected between each use. That step was taken after BC Parks closed washrooms at Kekuli Bay Provincial Park.

The RDNO encourages everyone to use alternate, less popular trails that they can bike or walk to rather than the rail trail or use the trail at less busy times with a warning it could be closed if social distancing cannot be achieved.

The Sheriff has cycled the ORT numerous times during the past eight weeks and found virtually everyone — and there’s not that many people on the trail — obeying social distancing. Dog walkers even get off the trail to allow people to pass by.

The ORT is still divided into two sections, separated by a seven-kilometre stretch between Old Vernon Road and Beaver Lake Road.

Eldorado Ranch, north of Kelowna International Airport, has agreed to allow the trail through its farmland, but 2.5 kilometres of future trail awaits federal approval of an Addition to Reserve application by the Okanagan Indian Band, and band council approval for construction and public trail use.

On Monday, the Sheriff cycled between reserve No. 7 and Oyama to check trail conditions.

There are no closed signs at Beaver Lake Road so he headed south on an unimproved rail bed for 1.5 kilometres before coming to a City of Kelowna “Trail closed/No trespassing” sign double-locked to a Modu-loc fence. However, someone cut off a lock and chain, and moved the fence sideways to create a now-well-worn path into the reserve.

Two users said you can go another two kilometres south before coming to a bridge with pieces missing, a handrail on just one side and a substantial barrier across the trail (possibly the edge of city/ranch property). The Sheriff doesn’t recommend heading south from Beaver Lake Road to a dead end.

Heading north from Beaver Lake Road, the trail is even more unimproved for half of the 0.7 kilometres to McCarthy Road. The other half is new crushed gravel.

The most interesting section is the one kilometre from McCarthy Road to Lodge Road, the so-called test section where three different methods were used to create a finished trail.

North of Lodge Road, you can experience the winner: a fine gravel-sand mix that was packed seven times for an almost-asphalt-hard surface which has stood the test of time, albeit dusty in dry Okanagan conditions.

The challenge is a lack of parking at the Lodge Road access so your best bet for a great ride is using the two parking lots (and tennis court) on Woodsdale Road with an 8.2-kilometre route beside Wood Lake to Oyama.

Ribbleworth Falls (landscaped interpretive site not yet open) is three kilometres away.

You can also park at the Oyama isthmus/boat launch and head north for 9.1 kilometres to Kekuli Bay Provincial Park (currently closed) or 18 kilometres to Kal Beach. An unnamed, seasonal tall waterfall is on the trail near Kekuli Bay.

The CN Rail line was constructed in 1925 to bring fruit, other produce and lumber from the Okanagan to markets across Canada. Operated by Kelowna Pacific Railway, the line served Campbell Creek, Kamloops, Vernon, Coldstream, Lake Country, Okanagan Indian Band and Kelowna.

KPR went into receivership and ceased rail service in July 2013. CN resumed operations on 156 kilometres, or about 75 per cent, of the former KPR network running from Campbell Creek to Lumby Junction in Coldstream.

In September 2013, CN Rail began the formal process of discontinuing the rail line from Lumby Junction to Kelowna.

More on the ORL next weekend.

J.P. Squire, aka the Ski Sheriff, is a retired reporter. Email jp.squire@telus.net