Penticton-to-Osoyoos trail?

An independent analysis team has recommended what they say is the best route from an environmental perspective for a long-sought recreational trail connecting Penticton to Osoyoos, though the area along Vaseux Lake is contentious. 

EBB Environmental Consulting presented their findings to the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen board on Thursday morning.

Tennessee Trent, trails manager with the Ministry of Forests, explained the process of trying to build a trail through the area roughly following the old KVR railway has been underway since 2004, with several rejections over the years mainly due to concerns over the protected Vaseux Lake area, what Trent called the "jewel" of the proposed route. 

"There's a huge amount of concern out there," Trent said. 

Oliver Busby with EBB said the roughly five-kilometre stretch which would be either on the east or west side of the lake is home to 32 federally listed species at risk. During their study, they considered the impact of the habitat loss of a two-metre wide trail with 0.5 metre buffer zone on each side, and considered habitat change for five metres on each side. 

The team considered four routes, and concluded that a route along the east side of the lake next to the highway, known as option C, would have the least environmental impact, a recommendation that was a sticking point for some members of the board. 

"I want to emphasize option C is the least desirable. It's a terrible idea, it's a highway," said area D director Ron Obirek. "If we want to compare apples to apples, take the highway out and the impact [on the environment] is probably the same." 

He added that since the west side of the lake is already Crown land, people are already using it without direction or oversight. 

"The west side is obviously the only desirable route," Obirek said. "If you have a trail with proper education and information, in my experience people are very respectful." 

Trent agreed, citing support from Member of Parliament and biologist Richard Cannings, but cautioned that developing the west side would have significantly higher costs associated.

"This is not a cheap proposition. I think giving the value of the lands ecologically, I think that we would really need not just to do what we have to to get this thing improved, we would have to demonstrate very strong environmental management and that would cost some money," Trent said. 

Director Tim Roberts of Area G said he thought the additional money shouldn't be thought of as an extra cost, but a necessary response to damage that will continue to be caused on the west side, regardless of where the official trail goes.

"No matter how much money you pour in on the east side, people are going to go on the west side," he said. "We're mitigating an already existing problem where there's damage being done."

Trent said that another ongoing aspect of the overall project is consultation with various First Nations groups along the entire stretch of the trail. 

"There's a lot of opportunity for partnership with first nations in the spirit of reconciliation," Trent said. "Ideally the RDOS and First Nations would partner and come up with management planning. That's one of the real keys for success here."

Director Sue McKortoff, mayor of Osoyoos, also spoke up, pointing out that calling the trail a route from Penticton to Osoyoos isn't strictly correct. 

There is a large gap there between where the trail ends at the head of the lake, and there's a large gap there between there and Osoyoos," McKortoff said, asking the consultants to keep that concern in mind in future iterations of the plan. 

The route has not been finalized, and the consultants will now be working on further analysis of smaller sections, including additional mitigation and compensation options for trail routes along the west side of Vaseux Lake, which the RDOS board will hear more about at a future date. 

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