Rail trail upgrades

Upgrades are underway at the Westkal Road parking area in Coldstream, along the Okanagan Rail Trail. The north extension of the trail will begin after the new Westkal Road parking area is complete.

After three days of classic rock at Rock the Lake in the Prospera Place parking lot in Kelowna, the Sheriff wanted a little peace and quiet. So he and Constant Companion Carmen did two of their favourite outdoor recreation outings.

On Monday, we launched our kayaks at Pioneer Park in Oyana and checked out the east bay on the south end of Kalamalka Lake. Waterfowl were relaxing in the calm waters, water lilies were in full bloom and Eurasian aquatic milfoil was growing unimpeded up to the surface. The latter is a stark warning of what could happen on Okanagan Lake if harvesting is halted to preserve the Rocky Mountain ridged mussel.

Current rules prohibit milfoil rototilling within 50 metres in every direction from where a Rocky Mountain ridged mussel is found. As a result, rototilling bans have already been established at locations such as Kin Beach in Vernon, stretches of the West Kelowna shoreline, places in Summerland, and on parts of Skaha and Osoyoos lakes.

Perhaps the Okanagan Basin Water Board could re-work its Don’t Move A Mussel campaign to stop the spread of invasive zebra and quagga mussels. A sister campaign of Move A Mussel could be promoted to relocate Rocky Mountain ridged mussels from popular swimming beaches threatened by milfoil to better habitat areas of Interior lakes where they could flourish.

As we headed north on Kalamalka Lake, two boats had stopped at the graffiti cave and cliff diving area so young people could climb up the rocks and launch themselves into the lake, despite no trespassing signs.

On Tuesday, we unloaded our bikes at the tennis courts on Woodsdale Road in Lake Country and cycled the Okanagan Rail Trail to Coldstream for lunch at the Rail Trail Cafe. The number of people on the rail was incredible: hikers, joggers, families, single cyclists, lots of couples and cycling groups.

Not only did the local government owners of the trail have new signs in place but upgrades are underway at the Westkal Road parking area in Coldstream which is used by those heading to the Okanagan Rail Trail. Access to the trailhead there is still open.

The upgrades include increased safety, erosion control and paving with walking paths from user vehicles to the trail entrance.

The District of Coldstream is recommending trail users park in the Coldstream parking lot at 16506 Kalamalka Rd. The Regional District of North Okanagan also has a public parking lot on Bailey Road that connects the Kal Crystal Waters Trail and the ORT. However, this slope is slightly steeper.

The north extension of the ORT will begin after the Westkal Road parking area is complete. The extension is the final stretch of the RDNO’s portion of the trail.

On Thursday, the Sheriff was again on the rail trail but in Kelowna with an additional sidetrip on Brandt’s Creek Linear Park.

The City of Kelowna has 28 trail counters, including five on the rail trail.

On Wednesday, the counter at Spall Road and Clement Avenue tallied 1,426 users compared to the daily average of 604. Figures are also available by week and by month. In May, the number of users totalled 43,470.

You can check KelownaÌs trail data at eco-public.com/ParcPublic/?id=4198

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In spite of the growing popularity of rail trails, Recreation Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC) is proposing to cancel the recreation trail designation for a 67-kilometre section of the Columbia and Western Rail Trail and turn it into a road tenure.

In fact, the 164-kilometre Columbia and Western Rail Trail which runs between Castlegar and Midway, was given to the province by the Trans Canada Trail Society for non-motorized use in 2004.

“The Columbia and Western Rail Trail is a spectacular experience for active outdoor recreation and a public asset that should not be turned into an industrial road. This is a precedent, threatening rails trails and The Great Trail of Canada,” said Ciel Sander, president of the Trails Society of BC.

“If the KVR Rail Trail, which includes the Columbia and Western Rail Trail between Hope and Castlegar, was properly funded and managed as a linear greenway or as a linear provincial park, we could have an epic low-carbon recreational rail trail in south central British Columbia. Turning this rail trail into a road is a real step backward for the many B.C. residents who enjoy cycling, walking and rolling for recreation.”

Already, residents are having difficulty finding high-quality cycling trails in B.C., he added. “They instead are often flying to Europe, the U.S. or other provinces for their cycling holidays.”

The trails society has been urging Recreation Sites and Trails BC to properly manage provincial rail trails.

“Instead, without any public consultation or oversight, the trail has been overrun with motorized vehicles destroying the surface, making it dangerous and difficult to cycle and walk on. People have been gaining off-road vehicle (ORV) access to these rail trails in addition to driving trucks and cars there, displacing active trail users these rail trails were established for,” said Sander.

“The public should have a say in what the future looks like for this public rail trail.”

The recently released Report on the Budget 2020 Consultation highlighted the concerns of several organizations regarding non-motorized trails and included a recommendation to increase operational funding for BC Parks and Recreation Sites and Trails BC to support staffing, monitoring and enforcement, maintenance, public safety and recreational infrastructure.

With the BC Trails Strategy being updated and the potential for more funding, this is not the proper time to consider downgrading a rail trail to a dusty industrial road, said Sander.

The Trails Society of BC is asking for “a robust public engagement process” to determine the future of rail trails in British Columbia.

The public is being urged to send an email to John Hawkings, director of Recreation Sites and Trails BC, at recinfo@gov.bc.ca with subject line “CWRT change in administration comments.”

It’s suggested people tell Hawkings they do not want to see the Columbia and Western Rail Trail de-listed as a recreation trail and to ask for a proper public engagement with a set of alternatives, and for an extended public consultation period.

Trails Society of BC (trailsbc.ca) is a volunteer group established in 1994 to assist the provincial government in establishing the Trans Canada Trail, since renamed The Great Trail of Canada.

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The Trans Canada Trail Society (TCT) has also responded to the proposal by Recreation Sites and Trails BC

“TCT is deeply concerned about the proposed change and hopes the Ministry (of Environment) will consider re-evaluating the proposed removal of the legal designation,” said Jeremie Gabourg, TCT’s vice-president of communications and marketing.

TCT transferred this trail section to the B.C. government in 2004 with the intention it would be used and managed as a recreational trail. Following the transfer, TCT has invested significant funds towards the development of the C&W and KVR rail trails, he said.

“While we respect the decisions of individual operators of the trail regarding authorized uses of individual trail sections, this is not simply a question of permitting motorized vehicles. This is a complete loss of trail designation and we do not wish to see this situation become a precedent on other parts of our network in the province, or across Canada.”

In addition, rail trails are a huge part of British ColumbiaÌs heritage, he added. “They are a legacy from the past that should be preserved for future generations to discover and enjoy.”

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This proposal hits home for the Okanagan since Recreation Sites and Trails BC allows vehicles to use the former Kettle Valley Railway right-of-way from June Springs Road/Little White forest service road (west end of the Myra Canyon) to Chute Lake.

A buddy recently cycled it and described its condition as “a national disgrace.” ATVs, in particular, have torn up the road to the point where many cyclists won’t go there anymore.

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Late each summer, land-locked kokanee salmon make their annual spawning run along the many tributaries of Okanagan Lake and along the lakeshore itself. Through the fall, local streams will be full of the red, freshwater cousins of the sockeye along with hungry black bears ready to fill their bellies.

You can learn more about this animal relationship in the Okanagan at the Fins and Fur exhibit in the Environmental Education Centre for the Okanagan (EECO) in Kelowna. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday in Mission Creek Regional Park, Springfield and Durnin roads.

For more information on this and other EECO programs, check out Your Guide to Regional Parks, go to the regional district website: regionaldistrict.com/parksevents or contact the EECO at 250-469-6140.

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Celebrate the return of kokanee salmon and enjoy them in their spawning colours at the Welcome the Kokanee Salmon Festival in Hardy Falls Regional Park, south of Peachland.

There will be displays, free activities for every family member and you can watch kokanee spawning in Deep (Peachland) Creek 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Aug. 24 in the grassy area of the park along Hardy Street just off Highway 97.

A park interpreter will answer questions about the land-locked salmon that is a cousin of the sockeye salmon. For more information, go to the regional district website at regionaldistrict.com/parksevents or contact the EECO at 250-469-6140.

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Twenty-two outdoor clubs in the Southern Interior are sharing a total of $200,000 in provincial funding to support off-road recreation, enhance tourism opportunities, and promote healthy living for all ages and abilities.

The clubs, including the B.C. Off-Road Motorcycle Association, the B.C. Snowmobile Federation and the Quad Riders Association of British Columbia (ATVBC), are receiving funding to improve trail riding and to promote rider safety.

Representatives from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, the British Columbia Snowmobile Federation, the British Columbia Off-Road Motorcycle Association and ATVBC evaluated 28 applications before making the final decisions.

Established in 2017, the ORV Trail Fund is funded from a portion of registration fees collected under the Off Road Vehicle Act by ICBC. The fund is administered by the ministry’s Recreation Sites and Trails Branch.

The next intake of applications to the Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Trail Fund will begin in early 2020 with at least $200,000 available to fund applicants.

Projects awarded funding:

* Southern Okanagan Dirt Bike Club, $2,900: addition of two more sites to the campground of Okanagan Falls ORV recreation site, and re-establishment and grooming of features on the trail.

* Vernon Snowmobile Association, $7,600: widening, brushing and clearing of Passmore Trail as well as danger-tree assessment and falling.

* Lumby Mabel Lake Snowmobile Association, $11,444: improved signage in four areas on existing trails that provide access to Park Mountain and Nelson Mountain. Trail markers will be numbered to allow for reporting positions in the case of accidents or lost riders, aiding search-and-rescue location.

* B.C. Off-Road Motorcycle Association, $8,157: education of B.C. off-road motorcyclists to improve awareness of off-road motorcycle riding ‘best practices’ through a 15-week BCORMA Safety through Education public awareness campaign.

* B.C. Snowmobile Federation, $10,000: completion of a comprehensive review of all course curriculum (hands-on and online) for the Safe Operators Program. This will involve clarifying program policies and creating an online portal for instructors to communicate and receive updates.

* Quad Riders ATV Association of British Columbia, $4,910: supply and distribution of trail safety, caution and regulatory signs for use on ORV trail networks throughout B.C. to ensure ORV trails are properly signed and safe for all users.

J.P. Squire, aka the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff, is a retired reporter. Email: jp.squire@telus.net.