In my April 22 post to this blog Ditch the trail;ride the bus; and cycle lots too I argued that despite the appeal of converting the defunct E & N rail bed to a world class hiking/cycling trail, “the relevant conversation right now is not primarily about cycling tourism…it has to be about readily available, affordable attractively packaged alternative transportation to our destructive obsession with CO2 belching Single(or few) Occupant Vehicles (SOV).” As an avid cyclist, I liked the idea of converting the defunct E & N rail bed to a cycling/hiking trail extending from Victoria to Courtenay. However-in a world of limited resources-it seemed to me that a cycling path had to be second priority to a bus system that can adapt to passenger load over flexible distances, that could change routes on short term changes in demand, that could cater to events and seasons while connecting ferries and airports with affordable/Earth friendly transportation. I argued a vitalized bus system would combine high demand short routes with distance travelers and integrate with major transit stops with no additional infrastructure to build.
It all made good sense to me at the time, but I was wrong. Suggesting that subsidies now promised to maintain a defunct railway could better go creating an energized, Island-needs bus system is a visionary proposal with little chance of being implemented in the next ten to twenty year. And even if we got a much improved bus system, we still have a defunct, deteriorating railway on a rail bed that could become a very valuable community asset if we act before it is broken up by short-sighted, piecemeal decision making. Having cycled Victoria’s wildly popular Galloping Goose rail-bed trail I liked the idea of expanding the cycling opportunities to include a Victoria to Courtenay cycling/hiking trail, but I remained blind to the full implications of such a world class cycling corridor until my recent, Victoria Day, cycle on the Okanagan’s restored Kettle Valley Rail recreational trail (KVR).
This past long weekend I met my two boys in Penticton for what was, likely, the first time we have come together for a major recreational get-away since they became adults involved in all-too-time-consuming careers these all-too-many years ago. I was expecting a pleasant time, laced with a bit of nostalgia and spiced with a bit of the parent child tension that never fully goes away—though it has mellowed beyond my fondest hopes—those many years ago! Knowing, all-too-well, the competitiveness of my son, the corporate lawyer, and my other son, the businessman/boxing coach, I expected the 80km KVR cycle from Myra Falls to Penticton to be…(well)–I certainly underestimated both the physical benefits of my daily Courtenay to Buckley cycle and the generosity of late thirties children for their seventy-year-old dad!
Perhaps it was the unique blend of lofty ancient trestles, grandiose, sunny Okanagan views, the pastoral beauty of vineyard dominated Naramata, the adventure of pedaling through knee deep puddles left by the previous day’s torrential rain, the signage of historically significant sites, the rhythm of 80 kilometres of generally relaxed cycling; perhaps it was largely influenced by the wineries a few feet off the Naramata end of the trail, or the great food, or the smiles on the faces of all we met along the way; perhaps it was facilitated by the great breakfast that the hotel volunteered to pack for our cycle journey; perhaps the warm sun on the expansive Naramata vineyards reminding me of exotic places that I will likely never see. Whatever the cause(s), it was—for me—a most enjoyable get-away.
I guess that—early in the season–in our mud-spattered cycling shorts and wide grins we looked pretty much like the KVR bound tourists that would soon arrive in hordes( 40,000 annually and growing) to enjoy the legendary cycling on the KVR; whether that included the 200 km, multi day, ride from Rock Creek to Penticton, the 80 Km—trestle dominated ride from Myra Falls, the historic 35km ride down from Chute Lake or the 4km fit-for-anyone (including strollers) well groomed trail from Little Tunnel; everywhere we went locals seemed to sense we were there to cycle the KVR and they spoke enthusiastically with us about their experiences with the KVR and the benefits it brings to the community.
Many spoke of the economic benefits and how much employment/business opportunity the KVR has brought to the community. Others spoke of the friends they have made and the relatives that come to visit (regularly). But everywhere there seemed to be this enthusiasm for the KVR and the idea of developing an economy based on healthy outdoor activity, preserving local heritage, promoting local products/ services (esp. high quality wine and fine food)and caring for people and the environment.
The whole experience has radically shifted my views of the value to Vancouver Island communities of converting the E & N rail-bed to a world class cycling/hiking trail. Yes, there are some strong economic arguments for it but what really struck me about the impact of the KVR on Naramata/Penticton/ and even, in some degree, to Kelowna, is the shift in community perception about what is truly valuable. With the shift in economic focus, there has clearly been a shift in community make up with more and more people working for/creating businesses centred on healthy outdoor experience—especially cycling. According to one Penticton resident ( the guy shuttling us up to the Myra Falls drop off point for the 80 km cycle to Penticton) there has been a huge shift in the community toward cycling for transportation generally; not just for recreation. More people are cycling to work, school, other recreation. I noticed that many of the wineries had large cycle racks out front ( I didn’t stop at all of them—really!) Clearly as more people come to the community to cycle, cycling becomes more of a fundamental part of the community. And so more people cycle and more infrastructure for cycling is built and more people cycle… and community values shift to healthier lifestyles. As has been demonstrated in many European countries, once a certain critical mass of people cycling occurs, the whole community begins to shift and more infrastructure supports cycling and more business serves to promote cycling. People who chose to recreate on bicycles learn to love the clean, healthy, invigorating transportation and they begin to shift their whole life-style toward less vehicle use and more cycling/bus/rail transport, so more non car infrastructure is built so more people can/do cycle and…
Based on the positive socio-economic impact of the KVR, local governments of Kelowna, Lake Country, Regional District of the North Okanagan and the Okanagan Indian Band are cooperating to expand the rails to trails network noting its positive economic, employment, business, health, quality of life, property values, public safety, heritage, domestic and international tourism benefits.
I won’ go into the arguments in this post, but the E & N is dead. It certainly isn’t worth wasting one more public dollar on. However the idea of a world class cycling/hiking trail on the rail bed would be a benefit to all island communities not just for the dollars it would bring in but also (especially) for the healthy transformation in communities it would bring about.