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Rail Trail Initiative reacts as CN Rail offers rail line to federal government

Vernon Paralympian Josh Dueck and Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative director Sean Cameron try out some of the old Kelowna Pacific Railway line near Oyama. - Kevin Parnell
Vernon Paralympian Josh Dueck and Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative director Sean Cameron try out some of the old Kelowna Pacific Railway line near Oyama.
— image credit: Kevin Parnell

The old Kelowna Pacific Railway line between Kelowna and Coldstream is one step closer to being secured for the public's use.

CN has announced that it did not sell the line to an independent operator and has made an offer to the federal government for purchase of the Okanagan Rail Trail corridor. As part of the abandonment process a 30-day window began June 3 for the federal government to purchase the line.

"It's unfortunate for the businesses that were utilizing the railway, that operating the railway is not viable," said Duane Thomson, a resident of Lake Country. "As part of the abandonment process CN is now onto the next stage."

The Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative (ORT), a group formed to push for the development of a trail that would use the old line, says it's now up to government to purchase the line or CN will eventually be able to sell the land piece by piece.

Each level of government will have a 30 day window to purchase the line.

"We either keep this land for public use, or it goes private," said Julie Melanson, director of the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative. "It's crunch time. We now have 90 days. By the fall this process will be decided."

The Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative released an impact analysis last week that shows that by year five a trail would attract 600,000 users and generate $6.7 million in annual spending by touristsl. The assessment covers the economic, environmental, and health benefits of keeping the line for public use.

"It's a benefit that pays back forever. It's the Napa Valley of B.C.," explained Thomson.

The old CN Rail line meanders along the spectacular shores of Kalamalka Lake, Wood Lake and Duck Lake, passes through Lake Country, past UBC Okanagan and the Kelowna International Airport before ending in the cultural district of downtown Kelowna.

For Brad Clements, ORT director, the motivation for pursuing the trail is personal. For the last 14 years, Clements and his wife have travelled all over North America with her family, touring rail trails.

"We've travelled to Quebec, P.E.I, the Galloping Goose in Victoria and the Kettle Valley trail," he said. "We'd love to have a trail in our own back yard. We really couldn’t ask for a better corridor for a community pathway—it would be a beautiful, safe way for commuters, tourists and residents to enjoy some of the valley’s most spectacular scenery."

To provide your support the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative is asking the public to send an e-mail to government through its web site at www.okanaganrailtrail.ca.

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