The reopening of the Adra Tunnel along the Kettle Valley Rail trail is inching closer to its debut, as one passionate group of locals continues to work on its improvement.
In June of 2023, the Woodwackers 2.0 announced that they were working on the century-old tunnel on the KVR trail above Naramata.
Built up of an informal group of Penticton and Naramata residents, the individuals donated their time, expertise and equipment to get the tunnel open again. A whole host of community members and local businesses joined in too.
The group has worked in partnership with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, following the announcement that it would undertake a study to investigate the potential for reopening the tunnel last fall.
The group started to work clearing out debris after the RDOS gave them the all-clear to move ahead.
Now, nearly six months after their first announcement, the group gave Castanet a first look at the progress done so far.
Woodwackers 2.0 member Terry Field said they’re roughly 80 per cent of the way done in regards to securing the tunnel and being able to open it to the public.
“So we've safely secured 1200 feet of tunnel, we have 400 feet remaining. It's been about three years in the making to get here,” he said. “People still are showing up every day, wanting to help volunteer their time and volunteer equipment. [With] what we've been able to accomplish, it's been amazing.”
The Adra Tunnel has been closed to the public for more than 40 years. The 487-metre, horseshoe-curved tunnel was originally excavated in 1913 as part of the development of the Kettle Valley Railway.
“It's amazing how they did this back in the day. They used hand tools to advance five feet a day, it took them 14 months to build this tunnel. It's one of the longest tunnels on the KVR and there's so much history to it,” Field said.
Rail operations ceased in the 1970s and the provincial government purchased the rail bed in 1990.
The Adra Tunnel was closed entirely in the early 1990s due to the unstable conditions.
But the group of local didn’t want to give up on the piece of history in their backyard.
“It's not just a construction project. We are trying to unlock the potential here for tourism and recreation in the Okanagan and try to connect our communities. We believe that this will be a landmark for families to come up here and create memories and be able to bike and hike and just honour the heritage and history of this tunnel.”
Originally, the group was hoping to be able to open by the end of summer or early fall, but securing the tunnel has brought on its challenges. Winter's chill means construction delays too.
“The nature of this project is you kind of figure it out as you go, because you don't know until you start sounding the rock. So it's really hard to kind of forecast how long it's going to take and how much it's going to take to get done,” Field said.
“We've encountered some really unstable sections in the tunnel, which have taken more time and resources and so we're hopeful that we'll be able to open it in the spring. That's our goal and we're getting really close.”
So far, the group has raised $700,000 to date all from private donations.
“We haven't had any public funding yet. So the community support has been amazing,” Field added.
The group is now trying to raise awareness to help raise funds to secure the last 100 meters.
“Just to safely open to the public. We're going to need an additional $300,000,” Field said. “Our goal is to light it, install the gates and we have a masterplan for amenities outside of the tunnel. So there'll be parking and picnic tables and the viewing area, and hopefully some kind of biking amenities as well around the area.”
With his family being from Naramata, Field said he’s looking forward to seeing the project come to fruition.
“I have a young son, and I can't wait for him to get to experience walking through this one day and hopefully create some memories,” he said.
“I kind of have this nostalgic feeling. There's some tunnels in Castlegar, where I grew up, and so we used to bike through there and the trestles as well. It's just excitement like we're doing something really special here. And it's just so amazing to be a part of.”
The tunnel remains closed to the public as an active construction project.
For more information on the project, to donate or to sign up for updates, head to adratunnel.com.