An underutilized parking lot next to the Penticton airport is being floated as the solution to overcrowding at the end of the Okanagan River channel that has sparked concern for health officials.
The city announced Thursday it has officially opened the 95-stall lot, which is now connected by a walking path to the existing lot with signage to help people get around.
The existing lot is owned by the Penticton Indian Band, which intends to now use the space for pick-ups only. It’s hoped that will help people clear out quicker, instead of congregating while waiting for rides or loading their vehicles.
City manager Donny van Dyk said in an email the issue of people gathering at the end of channel after their floats had become a “concern” to Interior Health, so his team and their partners had to move quickly.
Coyote Cruises, which provides tubes and bus transportation for floaters, estimates its customers only make up about 15% of the people who go down the channel each year, according to van Dyk, so the city felt it fair to get involved as an acknowledgement of the attraction’s benefit to the broader community.
“To their credit, Coyote Cruises has significantly increased their staff at the channel exit to also maintain social distancing at the end point of the channel, as well as increase the safety for all floaters on the channel,” he added.
The total cost of the project is budgeted at $19,000: $10,000 to hire “channel ambassadors” on the expectation some will be reimbursed by the Provincial Emergency Program as a response to COVID-19; $5,000 to paint lines, hang signs, build the walking path and perform some maintenance; and $4,000 for a licence to put the path across two separate properties belonging to Penticton Indian Band locatees.
Van Dyk said three-hour parking will be free this year, but the city will consider imposing a fee next year to cover operating costs.
Use of the lot, which also serves as the entrance to Sun Leisure Mobile Home Park, was assigned to the city in 1964 by the federal government, but the space has seen little use.
Interior Health didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday on specifics of its concerns around the river channel, but a spokesperson offered a reminder about keeping safe over the long weekend.
“July long weekend was a reminder that COVID-19 is still in our communities and can spread quickly if we are not respecting public health guidance, especially around gatherings. The increases in Kelowna started with a relatively small number of positive cases (under 10),” the statement said.
“The spread from these gatherings shows just how important it is to keep to Dr. Bonnie Henry’s recommendation of fewer faces, bigger spaces.”