Rail Trail closure indefinite
Hikers and cyclists could be blocked for quite awhile from a three-kilometre section of the Okanagan Rail Trail in north Kelowna.
The city has no immediate plans to construct a public path from the airport north to the municipality's boundary with the Okanagan Indian Band.
That section of the 49-km-long abandoned railway corridor runs through farmland and the provincial Agricultural Land Commission has not yet given permission for the path to be constructed.
"We've got an application in with the ALC, but we don't know when we'll have a decision," said Andrew Gibbs, the city official overseeing the Rail Trails's development.
Even when that decision is released, the trail's construction in that area will not necessarily commence immediately.
That's because the city's portion of the trail abuts the Okanagan Indian Band, and the band has not yet acquired ownership of the former railway corridor. It's unknown how long that process will take.
When the OKIB gets ownership, city officials hope the band will participate in the trail's development. "We're optimistic that will be the case, but that's certainly a decision for the band to take," Gibbs said.
A locked fence now bars public access on the trail north of Old Vernon Road, at the Kelowna airport, three kilometres from the city's border with the OKIB.
Previous signs cautioning the trail was closed did not provide sufficient deterrence, Gibbs said.
“We started in a very friendly way, with bollards and a sign,” Gibbs said. “We eventually gravitated to a fence and gate because people were damaging the sign, cutting it, vandalizing it, even throwing it in the lake.
“So we've had to armour up in response to that, because we're concerned about the trespass issue,” Gibbs said.
It wouldn’t be safe or wise to encourage public use of the trail north of the airport, Gibbs said, given the path will dead-end at the OKIB boundary for the foreseeable future.
The farmland north of the airport is known as the Eldorado Ranch, and is owned by the Bennett family.
Kevin Bennett said Sunday there have been ongoing trespass and vandalism issues since the railway tracks were pulled up.
“When they first ripped up the tracks, it was a free for all in there,” he said. “We had trucks, quads, dirt bikes, everything coming up here.”
“There's agriculture on both sides of the trail through here, which is a pretty unique situation along the rail corridor,” Bennett said.
Still, the Bennett family did not ask the city to install the locks and gates at Old Vernon Road, he said.
“There’s interaction between agriculture and other activities, but we always have that all over Kelowna,” Bennett said.
But until the ALC grants permission for the trail to cross farmland, and until the OKIB agrees to have the five-metrewide path built on its land, that portion of the Rail Trail between the airport and Lake Country will not be opened for public use.
That means future trail users heading north from Kelowna will either have to turn back at the airport or connect to Lake Country via busy Highway 97, which raises safety issues.
“It is a concern and we’ve talked about it,” said Gibbs, the city official. “If it becomes a problem, we have to start looking at what is our alternate route.”
The Okanagan Rail Trail is blocked north of the Kelowna airport and there is no timetable for when it will be opened for public use, even as other sections of the 49-km recreation path open this year.