Vernon is getting ready for the expected influx of visitors wanting to use the Okanagan Rail Trails.
The southern trail from Coldstream to Kelowna is expected to open this year, while the northern portion from Armstrong to Sicamous was recently purchased by local government, and will be developed over the next couple of years.
Vernon council discussed the plans during a committee of the whole meeting Tuesday.
Mayor Akbal Mund says the city will work with hotels and tourism operators to establish Vernon as the focal point, being in the middle of the trails.
“We could make this a destination point where we have the hotels here. It’s very easy for people to come in, jump on their bikes, and go in either direction, so I think we have an opportunity there,” Mund told CJIB News.
Councillor Catherine Lord says Vernon says the city will work with tourism operators and hotels to encourage trail users to stay here, and to add cycling infrastructure, amenities, and wayfinding and historical signage.
“I think because we’re right in the centre of it, you’re going to get a lot of recreational people who want to go for a couple of days, not particularly for two weeks, so I think having us in the middle can be a really positive tourism attraction for us,” says Lord.
Meantime, the inter-jurisdictional team planning the Okanagan Rail Trail is being encouraged to establish a strong and consistent presence online.
Councillor Lord says a couple of groups in the Okanagan have started websites using the Rail Trail name.
“I think it’s confusing for people if we don’t have one domain that specifically says Okanagan Rail Trail, or northern Okanagan Rail Trail or something, so that when people go and look for the Rail Trail, that’s the first one they will come to,” says Lord.
The city’s long range planning manager, Rob Miles, told council many communities are capitalizing on cycling tourism.
“It is a quickly growing industry,” said Miles
Miles says Polson Park and the city centre could be the hub of the trail network, where cyclists could join up with other trails or cycle out to the Okanagan Lake waterfront.
He says hotels would be encouraged to provide cycling storage and other amenities, while bike service and rental businesses could be established.
Councillor Brian Quiring urged council to upgrade the cycling route to Ellison Park, which he says is well used, but is currently “treacherous,” with cyclists taking their “lives in their own hands” due to a lack of proper shoulders and other issues.
“We need to address issues around our community, rather than trails connecting communities,” said Quiring.
Councillor Lord agreed with the dangers of the road to Ellison Park, saying perhaps work on that needs to be moved up in the city’s strategic plan.