Makin' Trails

COLLEEN MacDONALD/Special to The Okanagan Weekend

The author of Let’s Go Biking Okanagan and Beyond checked out the former Kettle Valley Railway between Bellevue Creek Trestle and Chute Lake Road on July 19. Colleen MacDonald found more than 20 large puddles, some of them “humongous.” When she tried cycling through one of them, she hit a submerged rock and fell into the muddy water.

Parts of KVR trail are ‘atrocious’

The series on the best Okanagan trails continues with the three-legged Kettle Valley Rail Trail, which has its hub in Penticton.

The former KVR network in the South Okanagan consists of the main line coming in from Chute Lake, cutting across the city, continuing through the Penticton Indian Band reserve to Summerland and then heading west to Princeton. The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen map shows the South Spur going directly south from Penticton to Okanagan Falls and then almost all the way to Osoyoos. The latter is part of the Skaha Lake Loop featured on the best trails series on April 25.

To summarize conditions on the three legs: Penticton to Little Tunnel (on the way to Chute Lake) is almost identical to the near-perfect, packed gravel of the Okanagan Rail Trail. 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 all three this year, the South Spur was a reminder of what happens when local governments don’t buy an abandoned rail line and it is sold off in parcels to private developers, forcing cyclists onto local roads in Kaleden.

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

Chief administration officer Joe Johnson noted the Penticton Indian Band has never applied for an Addition to Reserve like the Okanagan Indian Band did for the Okanagan Rail Trail (awaiting federal approval). Technically, the right-of-way still belongs to CP Rail, leading to one internet description as “no man’s land.”

Although you can get to the South Okanagan network from Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park, one rider said puddles between Bellevue Creek Canyon (south edge of MBPP) and Chute Lake are knee-deep in places and can stretch up to 30 metres.

Colleen MacDonald, author of Let’s Go Riding Okanagan and Beyond, cycled it with her husband and two friends on July 19. “The trail was horrific. Atrocious. Totally Third World. There were so many puddles that I stopped taking photos. There must be 20 of the ‘lake’ ones.”

With deep muddy water in one of the “humongous” puddles, MacDonald hit a large submerged rock and fell off her bike. At another spot, a dirt buggy careened around a corner and the driver had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the cyclists.

In response to a query, a Forests Ministry spokesperson said: “The section of trail between the Bellevue Trestle (part of Myra Bellevue Provincial Park) and Chute Lake is planned for upgrades to surfacing and ditching this summer. Similar works on other sections between Naramata and Chute Lake are under consideration in partnership with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS).”

The KVR Trail is provincially owned and established as a recreation trail under provincial statute. Recreation trails on Crown lands are managed by the Recreation Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC) branch of the ministry, said the spokesperson.

RSTBC manages approximately 500 kilometres of abandoned rail corridors as trail within allocated resources and must prioritize public safety and environmental risks associated with the old rail infrastructure (bridges, major culverts and fills, retaining walls, etc.)

“The RDOS will consider funding options to improve the KVR Trail within the RDOS (Chute Lake to Naramata). Once information about the scope of work is available, cost estimates can be established,” said Erick Thompson, RDOS communications coordinator.

“We’ve never seen the trail in this poor of condition. We’re making some great progress with the RDOS and BC Parks to get an agreement going forward on fixing the trail. We did offer our excavator and operator but there’s liability issues that we’re just navigating at the moment,” said Kelly at Chute Lake Resort.

Of note, a year ago, Kelowna cyclist George F. described the June Springs to Chute Lake section of The Great Trail as “a national disgrace.

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This week, the Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen focused mainly on the North Okanagan: cycling Colleen MacDonald’s Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park route in her guidebook Let’s Go Cycling Okanagan and Beyond; kayaked along the magnificent cliffs of Kalamalka Lake north from Kekuli Bay, crossed to Turtle Head Point (aka Rattlesnake Point) for lunch; and did our second cycle around the cooler, rural roads of Armstrong. (And cycled the KVR Trail from Penticton to Little Tunnel.)

J.P. Squire, aka the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff, is a retired reporter. Email: jp.squire@telus.net.