A petition to allow horses on the Okanagan Rail Trail has far surpassed its mark of 1,000 signatures.
Lake Country residents presented the petition, created by the nonprofit Old Friends Canada, a horse, donkey and mule rescue society, to Lake Country council Tuesday night.
The petition gathered around 800 written signatures and 500 signatures online, said Old Friends director Deb Mason. The petition has been circulating around Lake Country since June.
Deborah Battrum, president with the soceity, also listed tourism benefits, saying horse riders will visit from other areas and use the trail as well as contribute to the local economy.
“There are a lot of other towns in B.C. that have horses and different groups have been able to benefit,” she said.
She suggested a trial period of six months to allow horses on the trail and reassess the situation afterwards.
The Old Friends society is also willing to request for grants for summer student positions for students to patrol the area to spread education and monitor the rail trail, Battrum said.
“We can see by history through the other trails have been successful both in Kelowna and around B.C. that it isn’t the case, I think it’s the lack of education that is really important to be able to provide to the community,” said Mason. “It adds an exciting new competent to what the rail trail provides to Lake Country.”
Eight residents also protested council’s decision to ban horses from the rail trail Monday by travelling around Lake Country on horseback. They said they were met with honking and flustered drivers, but the horses were not affected, as they are properly trained, said resident Susan Dumaine.
She said as a resident near the rail trail she would ride her horse to OFK Grill, and nearby parks, but after regulations passed it became impossible to safety ride her horse on alternate routes.
“We can’t go on Oyama Road, it’s just crazy with traffic and people are going all kinds of speeds and I think there’s a way to share the trail and make it safe for everyone,” she said.
One resident suggested using horse poop bags and ensuring horse riders clean up after their horses.
Another complained that dog poop is already an issue and that it is often found in bags along the trail, and that horse poop is unlikely to spread invasive seeds.
In June the bylaw amendment was adopted which prevents horses and off-leash dogs on the trail.
In a previous interview with The Calendar, Matt Vader, manager of strategic and support services, said horses are not recommended on the trail because the animals’ droppings could carry invasive weed seeds.
The amendment aims to prevent conflicts between the agricultural properties along the trail and animals, he said.
Horses are not permitted on rail trail lands in Kelowna and in the North Okanagan.