There is considerable debate in the South Okanagan on whether a recreation trail between Osoyoos and Penticton should be located on the east or west side of Vaseux Lake.

A volunteer organization that promotes a major north-south Interior trail will hold its third annual Tea at the Top on Sunday at the viewpoint of the Fur Brigade Trail located between Peachland and Summerland.

However, there is a lot more happening behind the scenes as trail enthusiasts, environmentalists and local governments debate whether to put a South Okanagan trail on the east or west side of Vaseux Lake. Efforts are also underway to connect West Kelowna to Peachland through Goats Peak, and upgrade the Fur Brigade Trail between Peachland and Summerland.

The annual tea, hosted by the Trail of the Okanagans Society, will feature guest speaker and historian David Gregory who will reveal “some little known B.C. history,” said Ellen Woodd of the Trail of the Okanagans Society.

There are two options for reaching the tea: an interpretive trail from the trailhead near Hardy Falls south of Peachland and a bike ride from Priest Camp at the head of Garnett Lake near Summerland.

Those heading south from Hardy Falls should arrive at the falls’ parking lot by 10:30 a.m. and carpool to the trailhead. Bring a bag lunch, water and hiking poles (optional), wear sturdy shoes and dress for the weather that day. It is a steep 4.5-kilometre hike. Participants should be back at the falls by 3:30 p.m.

Those heading north from Priest Camp should take the Garnett Valley Road north of Summerland. Priest Camp is just past the dam. Participants should arrive at Priest Camp by 11:30 a.m. and then cycle four kilometres using a rough road. Bring a bag lunch, helmet and sturdy bike. Everyone should be back at Priest Camp by 3 p.m.

Tea and cookies are available by donation or by becoming a society member: $20 for a three-year membership. To help the society plan, sign up by email at trailoftheokanagans@gmail.com.

Trail of the Okanagans Society is an advocate for a biking/walking non-motorized Interior trail from Osoyoos to Sicamous. “The third Tea at the Top of the Fur Brigade trail is where we promote our vision,” said Woodd.

“Our focus at the moment is connecting Osoyoos to Penticton. We are working with both Oliver and Osoyoos as we try and get the trail connections between them. Our major sticking point is the route along Vaseux Lake. We are also working on getting the trail from the top of the Fur Brigade Trail to Hardy Falls in better shape so that it could be a feasible cycle.”

The society will hold its annual general meeting on June 22 at the Penticton library. Ron Muttiussi, retired city manager for Kelowna and currently the acting chief administrative officer for the Summerland, will be the keynote speaker.According to its website, the society’s ambition is to develop the Fur Brigade Trail between Peachland and Summerland “to a level that will make it a part of the North Central South Okanagan Hike and Bike Route. The (FBT) route is being considered for upgrade by CORD (Central Okanagan Regional District).

“Real progress on the Fur Brigade route depends on CORD and Peachland adopting it as part of their regional trail strategy. Positive steps in this direction have been made with consideration of funding through gas tax grants, etc.”

According to the website, “progress is being made to link up to West Kelowna and Gellatly Bay through the area called Goats Peak.” The website also explains: “It is important to note that unlike the trail projects to the north (Okanagan Rail Trail and Shuswap Trail Alliance), our group are advocates, not builders. Along our envisioned route, there are many forms of tenure and ownership. We are being heard and support is building.”

In January, the Penticton Herald reported a longstanding project for a regional trail connecting Penticton to Osoyoos was back on the table. Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen directors heard a trail south from Skaha Lake through Kaleden, Okanagan Falls and west of Vaseux Lake is possible, but comes with a hefty pricetag.

The RDOS has been pushing for the trail along the old Kettle Valley Railway right-of-way since 2004, but was unable to move forward due to inadequate engagement with local First Nations and environmental impacts.

EBB Environmental Consulting was hired to assess the potential environmental implications and presented the RDOS with four possible routes.

EBB biologist Oliver Busby suggested a route along the east side of Vaseux Lake was the least damaging to the ecosystem, which is currently home to 32 federally-listed endangered species along the five-kilometre stretch.

However, that is immediately adjacent to Highway 97, has several steep bluffs and wouldn’t stop people from continuing to use the west side trail.The regional district has been trying to acquire the piece of KVR trail since 2007. The west shoreline of Vaseux Lake contains mostly undisturbed valley bottom, rare property in the South Okanagan. But the railway followed the western shoreline, leaving a 100-foot wide recreational corridor that directors feel would be a better choice for the trail .

The next phase of the study will look at trail options in smaller sections of the route, exploring in more detail how the west side of Vaseux Lake might be made to work.

Environmental issues around Vaseux Lake aren’t the only problem areas on the southern route. A section north of Banbury Green in Kaleden is being contested by the Penticton Indian Band and is not provincial jurisdiction while there remains a gap in the trail between the head of Osoyoos Lake and the town of Osoyoos.