For as long as he can remember, Gary Dicken has driven his car on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail to take in the view, access historic sites and get away from it all in the pristine wilderness.
So Dicken is among those who have formed a group dedicated to preserving access for all to the KVR above Naramata, in reaction to the BC Government's proposal to cut off all motorized traffic along the old railwaybed.
"It's a big part of the Naramata lifestyle being able to drive up here, especially for people who have lived here a long time," said Dicken, whose family has been a part of the community since 1909.
The group, Keep Our KVR Accessible to All, KOKATA, came into existence following a heated September meeting in Naramata, where John Hawkings, the provincial trails manager for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, laid out a plan that included trail use designations ,motorized opportunity development and KVR trail development.
Among the designations were non-motorized with motorized access for tenure holders from Penticton city boundary to Arawana Road, non motorized from Arawana Road to Little Tunnel and shared use from Little Tunnel to Glenfir Trailhead.
The plan is to be implemented over the next two years based on available resources.
The proposal was not well received from the get go. Several angry residents stood up and told Hawkings they were opposed to the idea because the KVR is considered to be Naramata's backyard.
"People were surprised when they went to the meeting and saw the draft plan because it stopped all passenger vehicle access," said Dicken.
KOKATA has met since and created a website with a core agenda that includes:
- To preserve passenger vehicle access to the Little Adra Tunnell, Big Tunnell, Rock Ovens Park, power lines roads and the Elinor Forest Service Road.
- To preserve current levels of access to the affected areas for the disabled, elderly and infirm.
- To preserve Crown land values and current levels of access to the affected areas for gatherers of firewood and hunters.
- To identify and resolve issues that may prevent future access to the affected area for any and all users.
To ensure they get heard, the group is circulating a petition that now has about 600 signatures, said Dicken. It is available online at their website, and at businesses including the Naramata Pub and Penticton Honda Centre.
The hope is to present the petition to Hawkings at a meeting in December.
Hawkings said he has been in contact with the group and plans to meet in the Penticton area.
"My primary goal is to listen to them, understand what their concerns are and provide them with a little bit of context on the trail and how the province approaches the management of trails," he said.
As they wait for the meeting, they are asking for more volunteers to help with the cause. Once the meeting is over they will take it from there, said Dicken.
"It's one of those things. We can't just let it go by. We have to say something," he said.
The effort has created some polarization in this small community nestled by Okanagan Lake.
At the September meeting, several residents said they would like to see the trail used for only hiking, walking and horseback riding because it is a wilderness area with an abundance of wildlife.
Aimee Oakley, the social media liaison for KOKATA, said it is because of the natural beauty, that it should not be restricted to anyone.
"There are going to be people on both sides of the issue," she said. "All we are trying to do is keep something that been a part of the culture of our community.
My husband has a disability and to think he couldn't go up there with our children just breaks my heart.".