Rail trail is big biz

The Okanagan Rail Trail project is being viewed as a potential and key economic driver for the Valley that could significantly boost tourism to the North Okanagan.

“It's very rare for a region such as the Okanagan to be presented with a new product that has the potential for that much economic impact,” said Kevin Poole, the City of Vernon's manager of economic development and tourism.

“If you look at the hard numbers that were produced in the economic impact analysis, there's close to 600,000 users on the rail trail by the end of five years – is the estimate. Yes, that's an estimate, but I think it puts it into perspective of how large the opportunity is.”

A tourism report presented to city council states that within five years of the trail's completion, an estimated 47,400 visitors will access the Kalamalka Lake section.

“It's a big opportunity and I think from a Vernon perspective, how do we engage our accommodators to ensure they're meeting the needs of the cyclists and the hikers that are going to come to the area to explore and how does the business community react and look at this new market that comes to town and leverage that opportunity?

“Kelowna is looking at the exact same thing,” Poole told council on Monday. “We want people to stay here, not stay in Kelowna, do a loop and then stay in Kelowna some more. We need to be sure we are ready.”

While businesses and hotels figure out how to handle all those bikes, Poole said the city needs to look at its infrastructure investment in moving the traffic, such as bike corridors through Vernon to the trailhead in Coldstream.

“The goal from a city of Vernon perspective is to have cyclists and hikers come to the community, stay in our hotels and have corridors that they are able to directly access so they don't to drive their vehicle and then get out with bike, but they can hop on their bike and ride directly out from downtown Vernon to the trailhead.”

Poole suggested hiring someone, at least part time, to help with the rail trail planning and getting mapping in place. 

During the council meeting, a five-year tourism strategy was adopted.

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