Rail Trail clo­sure in­def­i­nite

The Daily Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By RON SEY­MOUR

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.”

RON SEY­MOUR/The Daily Courier

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.

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