I think that the purchase of the Canadian National rail bed, as a public transportation corridor linking Kelowna, Lake Country and Coldstream is a wonderful opportunity. I want to address Lake Country residents specifically because they will be paying more per capita than folks in other jurisdictions.
It is regrettable that the Okanagan has lost its rail service, but continual deterioration of car loadings made the bankruptcy of the short track operator inevitable. The Okanagan is isolated from major markets and consequently faces high transportation charges, making some manufacturing ventures uneconomic. Perhaps conditions will change for freight traffic or for rapid transit at some point in the future. One thing is certain. If the railway is sold off to private interests and private capital is spent developing those properties, no future government could afford to purchase the corridor. This is a once only opportunity.
The rail trail will benefit local people as a recreation property, whether it is for hiking or biking, access to lakeshore and the lakes, a place to take visitors, protection of habitat for wildlife, or protection of our lakes from industrial and domestic pollution.
Public safety of our citizens is a reason why we must purchase and develop the trail. People who want to walk or cycle for shopping, schooling or recreation are often deterred because the Central Okanagan offers inadequate separation of highway traffic from pedestrians and cyclists. Many university students and professors cannot take the chance of cycling to the University of B.C.. Recreational riders must truck their bicycles to and from some safe staging area before riding. Seniors who prefer level or near level grades with separation from vehicular traffic do not have the opportunity to move about our community safely and the consequent loss in health benefits is enormous. And we know all too well that lives have been lost recently near George Elliot Secondary because of inadequate separation of pedestrians from motor vehicles. For all of these folks, safety is the paramount concern.
When developed, this transportation corridor (along with Pelmewash Parkway and the Spion Kop trails in Lake Country) will undoubtedly become a major world attraction. Newly retired folks with large discretionary incomes travel around the world to hike and bike and to visit tourist attractions, agro-tourist establishments, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, art galleries, wineries, retail stores, motels, fishing resorts, golf courses, and yes, bike shops. And to think that the rail trail runs right past the door of the Kelowna International Airport.
The high-volume seasons for this international traffic are the spring and fall, during the shoulder seasons of our two traditional tourist seasons. As residents know, the Okanagan has so much to offer during the blossom and harvest seasons and many of our annual visitors see none of that beauty. The best part of increased shoulder season traffic is that these visitors will patronize existing businesses, extending their seasons and making them more viable.
The non-profit Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative recently commissioned an economic benefit analysis of the rail trail and the economists projected an increase in economic activity attributed to the rail trail to be $6.72 million annually within five years. These developments will come from building new businesses and making others more sustainable. To examine that analysis go to http://okanaganrailtrail.ca. These figures do not include the health or safety benefits to the community or the sheer pleasure of living in such an accessible, lake-oriented community. Nor do they consider the possibility that proper marketing and branding could make the opportunities explode.
I see huge economic potential for the community of Lake Country, which could brand itself as the Tuscany of Canada. Lake Country can highlight its spectacular scenery, orchard and wine industries, rural lifestyle, agri-tourism, large capacity in restaurants and other tourist related facilities, wonderful hiking and biking opportunities and, of course, our spectacular lakes. Kalamalka Lake is one of the world’s natural marvels and it could easily become an icon for a burgeoning industry that is complementary to our existing economy.
I have lived in the Okanagan for 72 years and this is the most exciting opportunity that I have seen in my lifetime. Our grandchildren will thank us for our foresight if we preserve this magnificent corridor.