Building Connection in the Okanagan
The Okanagan has long been a beautiful place to live, work or play in British Columbia. With its warm summers and perfectly snowy winters, as well as proximity to Vancouver to the West and Calgary to the East, it is not only a getaway for many, but also home to people who want to be in a place that feels connected but at a slower pace than its big city counterparts. And if being in the heart of wine country, with orchards abound, countless outdoor adventure opportunities, and endless beaches and waterfront parks wasn’t enough, the area is about to add yet another reason to visit and maybe just stay a while.
Communities Working Together
In June of 2015, the City of Kelowna, District of Lake Country, Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) together with the Province of British Columbia purchased the old CP Rail line that travels through each municipality, with the land of the Okanagan Indian Band in the process of being reverted to reserve status the the Addition to Reserve process. The discontinued rail line connects Kelowna to Coldstream, and was identified as the perfect opportunity to create a multi-use trail that would not only be a destination for locals, but also for tourists who, when completed, will be able to travel largely uninterrupted for 50-km.
“It’s an interesting project because it brings together multiple jurisdictions in the Okanagan that all have to work together to create something truly fantastic for the region,” states Daylin Mantyka, Urban Systems’ Communications and Engagement Coordinators from our Kelowna branch. Daylin has been involved with community outreach and communications for the project. “Partners from each of these jurisdictions and the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative form the Inter Jurisdictional Development Team (IDT) and Owners Development Team (ODT), who come together to make decisions on constructing the trail.”
The leadership teams consist of partners from Kelowna, Lake Country, RDNO, Okanagan Indian Band, representatives from the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative, and includes Project Lead, Thomas Simkins, an EIT also in our Kelowna office. They have been collaborating on the project to ensure the success of the trail, which is quite a big project. But while these groups are working to make decisions on the trail, the funding has been primarily a grassroots effort.
All design and construction costs for the trail are being covered by grants and funding coordinated through the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative, enabling the completion of the project without committing any tax dollars. The communities along the trail are very invested in its success, seeing the project as a benefit to the community. The estimated $7.8-million in construction costs is being funded by matching grants, community fundraising events and even children in the area donating from their own piggy bank. To date, the communities have raised approximately $5-million.
Creating Transparency Through Technology
The trail is currently under construction, with an estimated completion for the Fall of 2018, but in the meantime, sections of the trail are open to the public depending on the construction schedule. To ensure transparency and clear communication around the project, and allow residents to know which areas are not currently under construction and inaccessible, Urban Systems has provided a mapping application that offers moment-to-moment information about active construction locations. Developed by Brendan Pauls, a GIS Specialist, the mapping software is an application Urban Systems has used for past projects, but not in this capacity.
“We are able to show instantaneously if there is an abrupt closure due to a rock or landslide, for example. The tool helps ensure people with plans to ride or walk the trail won’t be surprised,” Daylin explains. She views this technology not only as a handy tool for the community in planning excursions, but also as a way to build trust. “It’s a communications tool to keep people updated on what’s happening with the trail. People are genuinely interested in what’s going on with this project, so it’s a point of clarity to help communicate construction updates.”
Once the trail is complete, there is an option to transfer the maintenance on the app to the municipalities, which would allow them to continue offering real-time updates on the trail’s conditions. It may seem like a small effort in soft engagement, but for the community and visiting travelers, it could be invaluable throughout the year, removing the possibilities for unexpected surprises along the route.
A Showcase of Community Pride
In late July 2017, a 1-km test section of the trail was opened to the public to allow them to see what their trail will be like. “It was an opportunity for us to showcase the trail in an outdoor, modified open house,” Daylin notes. “We showed the technical components of the proposed trail, and community members could try it out to see what it would be like when completed.”
Each municipality will govern how their own section will be finished, but the base conditions will be compact gravel that ensures it is accessibility to any users, regardless of their mobility options. As Daylin noted, while the test section was open, community members in wheelchairs and other mobility aids, as well as families with strollers, were using the trail without challenge, confirming the trail will be accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Additional Info Sessions were also held in early October and provided a more detailed construction timeline to trail enthusiasts.
When complete, the Okanagan Rail Trail will not only connect Kelowna to Coldstream, but also to existing walking and cycling networks in each municipality, enhancing public space throughout the region. It will traverse a diverse range of landscapes, including urban and industrial streetscapes, orchards and agricultural land, and culminating with beautiful waterfront views and mountain vistas along Kalamalka Lake. Truly, the trail will be the gem of the Okanagan, and something the entire region can be proud to call their own.
Want to see the status of the trail? Check out the mapping application below!