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Making-Tracks

Myra Canyon dubbed best stretch of country's Trans Canada Trail

Top trail in our backyard

The spectacular Myra Canyon section of the former Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) is, according to Michael Haynes, author of The Best of The Great Trail, the best part of the 28,000-kilometre Trans Canada Trai—the longest network of multi-use recreational trails in the world.

This summer, visitors will discover a major improvement as part of a $1.6-million investment by B.C. Parks. Cabin Operations Ltd. just completed re-decking of all 18 trestles, while widening their decks to go from railing to railing. Since 2008, only the middle part of the trestles had decking, with the exposed timbers on both sides making it challenging for walking or pushing a bike while passing other visitors. Also, in May, two new pit toilets were installed at Myra Station parking lot which will be expanded.

The Sheriff has described Myra Canyon as the ultimate combination of man-made marvel and Mother Nature at her finest. Its 16 wood trestles, two huge steel spans and two rock tunnels precariously hang on the edge of a deep canyon, with panoramic views of Okanagan Lake and the city of Kelowna below.

And it's popular. The 2023 visitor counts for Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park were: Myra Station, 24,380, Ruth Station, 7,638 and Stewart Road East, 22,104.

The Sheriff has had a 40-year love affair with Myra. In so many respects, his recreational and journalistic history in the Okanagan is mirrored in its modern history.

May 1980: He was hired as senior reporter at The Kelowna Daily Courier, just as the CPR began removing rails and ties from Midway to Penticton and turning the right-of-way over to the province.

He wrote numerous stories as the non-profit Kettle Valley Railway Heritage Society in Kelowna tried unsuccessfully to raise $10 million to buy the rails and ties to establish a tourist train attraction similar to the Kettle Valley Steam Railway in Summerland.

Several society members owned “speeders,” a railroad maintenance cart powered by a one-cylinder engine, which sounds like "putt-putt-putt." The Sheriff was lucky as he became one of the last people to ride the original rails. As they smoothly click-click-clicked over the steel rail junctions, the Sheriff thought: "This is the way this incredible canyon and ‘McCulloch's Wonder’ are meant to be experienced."

He rode his Honda CB750K motorcycle up Myra and Little White forest service roads to report on CP's removal of rails and ties but couldn't figure out why his street bike kept stalling. It turns out those roads were so bumpy potholes shook the acid out of the battery.

After that, the Sheriff in his red Land Rover, and many others, began driving through the canyon, thump-thump-thumping over the trestles until vandals started throwing their timbers over the side creating huge gaps.

From 1993 to 1995: After the provincial government considered closing the canyon due to serious injuries suffered by those attempting to cross the trestles, the Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society (MCTRS) was established. Volunteers spent three summers using donated lumber to nail down decking and attach handrails to all 18 spans.

May 10, 1994: As improvements proceeded, 26-year-old Kelowna cyclist Carol Faye Fingler fell to her death from a trestle that had yet to yet to be improved. The Sheriff—tears in his eyes—took a photo of her bike, its front wheel twisted, as her body was carried off the trestle. A memorial cairn, decorated with flowers and a bicycle helmet, marked the spot.

January 2003: In a stroke of unknowing genius, the MCTRS convinced the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to designate Myra as a place of national historic significance.

Mid-August 2003: A lightning strike in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park sparked a massive wildfire that destroyed 12 wooden trestles and damaged the two steel spans (as well burning down more than 220 homes in nearby Kelowna).

2004 to 2008: The 12 trestles were rebuilt and two steel spans re-timbered, all with decks and handrails, with $17.5 million in mostly-federal funding (as a national heritage site) and a provincial grant (to use B.C. wood).

June 22, 2008: The Sheriff donned a top hat and tails to play the role of CPR president Sir Thomas Shaughnessy at the official opening of Myra Canyon.

November 2017: MCTRS was awarded the B.C. Parks' 2016 Volunteer Group of the Year Award.

There are two accesses to the Myra Canyon, the east end, via Myra Station is located 24 kilometres from downtown Kelowna, a 40-minute drive up Myra forest service road off McCulloch Road, and the west end, via Ruth Station (named after one of chief design/construction engineer Andrew McCulloch's daughters), up June Springs Road and the Little White forest service road.

McCulloch creatively hung the highest KVR section, at an elevation of 1,280 metres, on the sides of a steep canyon less than a kilometre wide using nearly 11 kilometres of track. Completed in 1914, he commented that he had never seen a railway built in such difficult conditions. His engineers aptly nicknamed it “McCulloch’s Wonder.”

In addition to clearing fallen trees, boulders and brush, maintaining the trail and adding storm shelters and benches, the trestle restoration society also added another objective to its mandate—preservation and enhancement of the cultural heritage of Myra Canyon.

It partnered with UBC Okanagan to sponsor archaeological digs at two of the original construction camps in 2007 and 2008. Morrissey Camp is now open to the public and brush clearing is underway to access the Huissi Camp.

Lacking new and younger volunteers, however, the MCTRS turned its remaining funds and records over to the Friends of the South Slopes (FOSS) last year, although many members continue to work in the canyon through FOSS.

For more information about the canyon and the KVR’s history, go here.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.





South Okanagan trail to Little Tunnel is an uplifting ride

Little Tunnel, big attraction

My series on introductory trails continues this week with Little Tunnel, one of the three legs of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, which all have their hub in Penticton.

The former KVR network in the South Okanagan consists of the main line coming in from Chute Lake, north of Penticton. Its second leg goes through the Penticton Indian Band reserve to Summerland and then heads west in a giant arc to Princeton. The KVR's South Spur heads south from Penticton toward Okanagan Falls and extends almost all the way to Osoyoos. The latter leg is the most scenic part of the Skaha Lake Loop, featured May 19.

To summarize conditions on the three legs—Penticton to Little Tunnel is almost identical to the near-perfect, packed gravel of the Okanagan Rail Trail, thanks to the efforts of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen's parks department. The South Spur is a sad comment on what could have been and the First Nation reserve stretch has the promise of what could be.

After cycling the Skaha Lake Loop in early May, the South Spur was a reminder of what happens when local governments don't buy an entire abandoned rail line and parts of it are sold off to private developers, forcing hikers and cyclists onto local roads in Kaleden.

The Penticton-to-Summerland stretch is so far an unimproved trail, rough in places, but doable with aggressive hybrid tires and mountain bikes.

In an interview several years ago, chief administration officer Joe Johnson noted the Penticton Indian Band has never applied for an “addition to reserve” like the Okanagan Indian Band submitted for the Okanagan Rail Trail between Kelowna International Airport and Lake Country (still awaiting federal approval).

Technically, the right-of-way still belongs to CP Rail, leading to one internet description of it as "no man's land."

The highlight of the three legs is, without doubt, what everyone calls “Little Tunnel” and it deserves its reputation as one of the best hiking/biking destinations in the Penticton area.

The Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen have almost always cycled this section of the KVR Trail from the trailhead at the north end of Vancouver Place in Penticton. Because this local street has mainly neighbourhood parking and not very many empty parking spaces, we often park on Vancouver Avenue in front of the community garden or on nearby Cambie Street.

There are numerous other ways to get to 80-metre-long Little Tunnel, which is perched 600 metres above Okanagan Lake, five kilometres northeast of Naramata and 18 kilometres north of Penticton.

You can also park in a large lot on Smethurst Road in Naramata for a shorter four-kilometre walk or cycle to Little Tunnel. Drive north on North Naramata Road, then turn right onto Smethurst Road. Watch for oncoming traffic around a very tight corner just before the lot, information board and an outhouse.

The most popular place to stop for lunch or a break is after you pass through the tunnel. There are two picnic tables and large rocks. The trail on both sides and through the tunnel is paved. Check out the soot on the tunnel's rock ceiling from the steam trains when the rail line was operational.

The gravel trail to Chute Lake was upgraded thanks to the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association.

The great views of the lake quickly disappear behind trees and you are back in the forest. However, a few hundred metres past Little Tunnel are an outhouse, trash bin and parking lot. (Motorized vehicles can drive in the four kilometres from a parking lot on Chute Lake Road, via North Naramata Road). Hikers and bikers should watch for traffic on this narrow roadway with steep drop-offs.

The KVR Trail from Penticton is all uphill (only two per cent grade) but the spectacular views of Naramata and Okanagan Lake (and McCulloch Trestle) will take your mind off the climb. There is an outhouse on the way up and a side trail to Rock Oven Regional Park where ovens built in rock structures were used by railway workers to make bread while building the KVR.

Don't miss the panoramic views from short Ladybug Trail. Although described as a family walking trail with a 360-degree view (an exaggeration) of Okanagan Lake and Little Tunnel, keep an eye on youngsters walking up to the cliff.

The route back to Penticton from Little Tunnel is all downhill. It can be very fast and you hardly have to pedal.

Several wineries are close by on the Naramata Bench, include D’Angelo Estate Winery, Hillside Winery and Origin Wines. So you might want to stop for those.

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It turns out the Central Okanagan Regional District's regional parks department isn't finished with Black Mountain sntsk‘il’nt?n Regional Park after all.

After silence for five weeks, last weekend's column not recommending hikers/bikers use main trails in their current condition (loose coarse gravel) amid criticism from users, prompted "additional background and clarity" from the RDCO.

"Construction of trails will be complete later this summer with a final trail surface to be added. The gravel currently in place on the trails is the base (coarse gravel) to provide structure for the trail. A final, fine crusher chip surface is still required as per parks (department) trail standards,” it said.

“The contractor we have retained has the final surfacing in a priority schedule and (we) expect the final surface to be in place next month.

"Parks staff state that the trail conditions are currently safe with no hazards, although more challenging for some bikes. In addition, each open trail is signed and given a difficulty rating with a description of what to expect on each trail."

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



Gravel service road unsafe for hikers and bikers

Black Mountain trail a no-go

The series on introductory trails is on hiatus this week. Instead, this special column focuses on a Central Okanagan trail not recommended for hikers and cyclists.

Open letter to Central Okanagan Regional District directors and Kelowna city councillors:

I'm writing with my concerns about the trails in Black Mountain sntsk‘il’nt?n Regional Park, specifically the use of coarse gravel on hills at both the Swainson Road and Joe Rich Road trailheads.

I include city councillors in this open letter because trail signs at Black Mountain sntsk‘il’nt?n Regional Park include the City of Kelowna logo and the regional district logo, and park users may suspect the cityto be involved in what I believe are unsafe trail conditions.

I would encourage regional board directors, as well as city councillors, to drive to Swainson Road and do a short walk up what is described on the park map as a “service road,” as far as the Coyote Trail. In fact, it is both a service road and a trail access.

You will immediately notice the Swainson Road parking lot and initial roadway up to the park gate is composed of hard-packed fine gravel but then the roadway switches to a thick layer of coarse gravel which moves underfoot as you climb a long hill.

During an e-bike outing on May 31, you could see vehicle tire tracks in the loose gravel. At the Coyote trailhead, there were narrow bicycle tire tread marks as the gravel shifted around. Yet fine gravel was used on Coyote and other uphill trails, some of them built by Central Okanagan students as a school project. Feedback on the service road gravel from trail users ranges from "uncomfortable" to "horrible."

The same is true at the Joe Rich Road trailhead—fine gravel in the parking lot and the first section of flat trail but coarse gravel up a long steep hill.

First, a little history. On April 21, a group of us e-biked from Joe Rich Road to Swainson Road, coincidentally, the same day as an official grasslands tour. When I reached the Swainson trailhead, I asked a group of tour participants what was with the coarse gravel? You could see uncomfortable looks on several faces and one woman responded that my concerns would be passed on to the regional parks department.

The loose coarse gravel is already migrating to the sides of the service road and hikers have started wearing new paths in the dirt on either side so they don't have to walk on the gravel. Of course, loose gravel scatters to the sides more quickly on steep grades, especially when service vehicles are climbing and descending.

I emailed the department explaining the regional coordinating committee for the Okanagan Rail Trail experimented with three different trail materials in a one-kilometre section in Lake Country. The winning combination was a fine gravel mix, compacted seven times which produced an almost asphalt-hard surface for 28 kilometres of trail between Lake Country and Coldstream. It has stood up to hundreds of thousands of visitors hiking and biking since it officially opened on Sept. 27, 2018.

I also contacted the Shuswap Trail Alliance and a spokesperson said: "For what we refer to as a Type 2 aggregate surface trail, it requires a compacted top tread surface of crusher fines, ideally with extra high fines content, which when wet and compacted, forms up to create a very firm surface. The fine (gravel) binds around the larger aggregate. (Like you see on the Okanagan Rail Trail and currently being applied to the northern (50-kilometre) Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail.)

“There can be subsurface layers using larger aggregate to build up the height of the trail, but the surface still needs the compacted crusher fines to set up firm enough for walking or riding on."

I expressed my concern to the regional parks department by email on April 21 and received the following reply on May 3

"Before the formal opening can occur, we are still working on the last bits of work that our contractor needs to complete, some of which is the placement of our standard crusher chip on the access trails from the Joe Rich Road side and some on the Swainson Road side. This gravel was not placed last fall as equipment and trucks were still navigating those surfaces. Now that the bulk of trail work is nearing completion, these are the final touches to be completed."

My May 6 email reply was: “I wasn't sure from your response if an additional layer was contemplated. If not, you might consider asking your contractor to spread a thin layer of crusher fines heading uphill from the Swainson Road trailhead gate as an experiment. A thin layer spread evenly by a dump truck should extend quite a distance uphill and should not be that expensive. That empty dump truck coming back down the Swainson Road trailhead hill, slowly, will provide at least an initial compaction. As the expert builders noted, the larger crusher chips move around like walking on marbles."

There was no response from regional parks.

If it's a matter of funding for a thin layer of crushed fine gravel, I would urge regional board directors to provide regional parks with a few hundred dollars as quickly as possible for one dump truck load to determine if that pilot project would make a crucial difference.

As the Shuswap Trail Alliance spokesperson said: "Topping with crushered fine (gravel), wetting and packing might work."

Applying a thin layer of crusher fines would certainly start the process and a little rain would help.

I am currently writing a series on introductory trails for my Castanet outdoor recreation column but in good conscience, I can't recommend what I believe to be an unsafe service road or trail which is the only way to access the upper trails at Black Mountain sntsk‘il’nt?n Regional Park from Swainson Road.

Regional board directors should also consider the legal liability if someone is injured after falling on an insecure gravel surface.

J.P. Squire

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.





International Hike and Bike Trail popular in Oliver-Osoyoos

South Okanagan trail

The IT series on Introductory Trails continues with the International Hike and Bike Trail in the South Okanagan.

This 18.4-kilometre recreational multi-use pathway popular for hiking, running, biking and horseback riding meanders beside the Okanagan River as it flows south from Oliver to Osoyoos Lake with four major access points and parking areas along the route.

The north end, 5.5 kilometres north of Oliver at McAlpine Bridge, is the most popular access point for those coming from Penticton and points north. Heading south on Highway 97, turn left onto Tucelnuit Drive, then right on Willow Court into a large paved parking lot.

Many cyclists e-bike the trail as an out-and-back adventure, going all the way to the south end near the northern tip of Osoyoos Lake. The first 10 kilometres are paved and then it is a wide gravel trail. The southern access is at the wooden bridge on Road 22 off Highway 97, eight kilometres north of Osoyoos.

The two main accesses for Oliver residents and visitors are directly behind the Oliver Tourist Information Centre (free parking) and behind Kinsman Playground and Water Park.

The pathway was meticulously planned with rest stops, washrooms, picnic tables, interpretive signs and viewpoints, plus parts of the trail are wheelchair-accessible. It is important to stay alert and keep your head up as it is a popular trail with high traffic volumes. Those riding horses should use only the gravel sections. Cyclists should yield to hikers.

"This trail showcases the authentic beauty of the South Okanagan, winding through vineyards, orchards and farmlands in Osoyoos and Oliver,” says Kelley Glazer, executive director of Destination Osoyoos.

“The trail is flat with many paved sections, which makes it more accessible to all ages and abilities. Because it follows the Okanagan River channel, it is excellent for birdwatching and wildlife viewing.”

Whether biking the spectacular trails of the region or hiking in nearby hills, visitors should be aware of the sensitive, semi-arid, shrub-steppe desert environment. Adhering to the “Leave no trace” principle is crucial for all visitors and residents, Glazer added.

You should ensure you properly dispose of waste, leave what you find and respect all wildlife. Be aware of the unique flora and fauna, including the at-risk Western rattlesnake. Cyclists are advised to carry tire repair kits, as off-path areas contain puncturevine (tribulus terrestris) which can deflate bike tires.

Hellobc.com touts the trail as a wine-touring, desert scenery and cycling route all-in-one, with 11 wineries, including Silver Sage Winery and Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. Oliver, known as the “Wine Capital of Canada,” is home to nearly half of British Columbia’s vines and more than 40 wineries.

There are a few key things to remember. The best times to visit are March through October. However, July and August afternoons can be extremely hot. Osoyoos is, after all, the warmest place in Canada. So bring lots of water, sunscreen, a hat and aim for a morning or evening excursion when it is cooler.

If you are interested in hiking with a group, the Osoyoos-Oliver Naturalist Club schedules outings throughout the season. Stop by the Osoyoos Visitor Centre to learn more.

On Road 22 at the north end of Osoyoos Lake, there’s a parking lot and access to the Oxbows, a rich wetland habitat popular with hikers and bird watchers. As one of the only remaining wetlands in Osoyoos, this protected area includes a gentle, restored trail of approximately five kilometres round trip.

Another highlight is the 4.3-kilometre Irrigation Canal Walkway (aka the Osoyoos Canal Walkway) which starts at the corner of 62nd Street, just north of Osoyoos Secondary School, and follows the former aquatic lifeline that opened up the area for the fruit and wine industries in 1922.

Walking, biking or rollerblading on its flat, paved surface provides spectacular views of the town and desert ecosystem. Parking is available around the 62nd Street corner adjacent to the trail sign. The walkway can also be accessed from the Osoyoos Visitor Centre parking lot.

As for wildlife, when the Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen were at the mid-point of the International Hike and Bike Trail during their last outing, hikers warned them they saw bears in the area as well as near the southern and northern ends that day.

You can combine hiking and cycling with the Garlic Festival and the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, both in October.

"Although two trail accesses are right in the heart of Oliver, once you are on the trail, you are surrounded by nature. There are several oxbows and ponds where you can observe ducks, herons, eagles and painted turtles in their home environment,” said the former website exploreoliverbc.ca.

"In early summer, watch for the beautiful lily pads that flower bright pink in the ponds. During the summer months, you will find great spots for picnics and secluded swims in the river. Fall brings the changing colours of leaves; the bright red sumac is especially photoworthy. Fall is also the perfect time for watching salmon spawn in the Okanagan River. Whatever time of year you visit, make sure to bring your camera to capture the beauty you are bound to see in a walk or bike ride."

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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About the Author

J.P. Squire arrived in the Okanagan Valley from flatland Chatham, Ont. in the middle of the night in the spring of 1980. Waking up in the Highway 97 motel, he looked across the then-four-lane roadway at Mount Baldy and commented: "Oh my God, there's mountains." Driving into downtown Kelowna, he exclaimed: "Oh my God, there's a lake."

The rest is history. After less than a month in Kelowna, he concluded: "I'm going to live here for a long time." And he did.

Within weeks and months, he was hiking local hillsides, playing rec hockey at Memorial Arena and downhill skiing at Big White Ski Resort. After purchasing a hobby farm in the Glenmore Valley in 1986, he bought the first of many Tennessee Walking Horses. After meeting Constant Companion Carmen in 1999, he bought two touring kayaks and they began exploring Interior lakes and B.C.'s coast.

The outdoor recreation column began with downhill ski coverage every winter as the Ski Sheriff but soon progressed to a year-round column as the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff.

His extensive list of contacts in Okanagan outdoor recreation clubs, organizations and groups means a constant flow of emails about upcoming events and activities which will be posted on Castanet every Sunday.

You can email the Sheriff at: [email protected].



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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