It’s going to be tricky – a trestle may even be part of the planned construction. But by spring, the Trail of the Okanagans Society hopes to make a huge step forward in creating a bike / hike-friendly trail from Peachland all the way to Goat’s Peak Regional Park, up by Seclusion Bay.
President Janice Liebe says the group hired a geotechnical engineer so they’d be in a better position to get the project approved by the Ministry of Transportation (as much of the planned pathway is within the Hwy 97 / Drought Hill easement).
“We want to be in that position so we can be looking at what we can fundraise to make this connection work,” she says, explaining that so far, the response from MOTI on the engineering details has been positive.
“We’re going to complete those engineering details and if we have final approval from MOTI when that’s done, we should have a shovel-ready project ready to start fundraising and find grant funding for in the spring, which is very exciting.”
There’s more than 100 different sections of trail between Bennet Bridge and the Canada / US border – the vision of the Trail society is to create a single, 370-km long hiking / cycling trail that extends from Sicamous all the way to Brewster, Washington. The route roughly makes its way along a large section of Okanagan Lake, and Liebe says one of the Peachland sections, from Buchanan Rd to Seclusion Bay Rd, is among the most challenging.
“Essentially it stays entirely within the Ministry of Transportation easement, so below the highway,” she says.
The plan is for a short, protected section of pathway to be on the highway, just off the Buchanan intersection. Then, where that first pullout is located before you go up Drought, the pathway will go down onto the original part of Drought Rd, which is currently blocked off. Further up the hill, closer to Seclusion Bay and the entrance to Goat’s Peak park, is where some serious engineering will take place:
“There’s a significant piece of (construction) we have to do there, with retaining walls and a trestle to get us over to Seclusion Bay,” she says, adding thankfully, there’s also a flat piece of land the pathway can easily traverse across.
“And this is why we’ve hired a geotechnical engineer who will do the design work that needs to be approved by the Ministry of Transportation to their standards,” says Liebe.
“This is not a matter of plowing the land and putting some gravel down.”
Engineering fees for this leg of the project is $14,000. The Trail of the Okanagans Society managed to raise $10,000 through a grant and private donations. On tonight’s council agenda, there’s a request from the Peachland Tourism and Economic Development Committee. A total of $4,500 was already earmarked for them in the municipal budget, and the request is to use $4,000 towards the engineering costs. (Update – that was approved unanimously during Tuesday night’s meeting.)
“We did a presentation to the Tourism and Economic Development Committee earlier this year to talk about the benefits to tourism in Peachland by connecting the trail, particularly the section between Peachland and West Kelowna,” says Liebe.
“Because as soon as that all opens up, in theory, you would be able to ride your bike from Peachland over to Kelowna and when the Okanagan Rail Trail is complete, with that section in Lake Country, you’d be able to get all the way to Coldstream. So essentially, this connects into the Okanagan Rail Trail.”
Today, the Trail of the Okanagans Society is meeting with District representatives and a consultant, to walk another section of trail that will go through Peachland. That’s thanks to another grant the society received – $10,000 to study how the Trail will go through town, between Hardy Falls (right at the beginning of the Fur Brigade Trail), and Buchanan Rd.
“Right now it’s not design work, it’s planning work,” Liebe says.
As the entire project sits now, about 70% of the entire trail is cycle-able. There’s some big sections that still need to be brought into the network, notably in the south Okanagan.
“Those are big sections of trail that require a lot of work and there are issues of access, the environment, so it’s complicated. But we’re working, frankly, everywhere we can.”
That includes liaising with local cities, towns, regional districts and First Nations leaders. The Trail of the Okanagans Society recently received a $15,000 grant to start some consultations – a listening exercise, Liebe says.
“We want to deliver the trail in partnership with Westbank First Nations, Penticton Indian Band and the Osoyoos Indian Band. We’re just starting that work now – what they would like to see, how they would like to participate, what’s important to them. So really, it’s a listening exercise for us to go through that.”
In all, she sees the Trail of the Okanagans Society as the glue that’s allowing these sections to be built.
“We don’t physically build the trails, but we’re working to create the vision of connecting all of these various areas and we do write grants to assist municipalities to help fund the work that needs to be done. For example, we found the funding for the engineering between Buchanan and Seclusion Bay. That’s not going to be a cheap piece of trail, so there will be a fundraising piece that comes out of that. But we see ourselves as the glue, bringing these various partners together to talk about this and to see what can be done. And we’re gaining momentum.”
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