Everyone acknowledged the motorized elephant that sat in the middle of the Midway Community Hall last Thursday when two top officials from Recreation Sites and Trails BC of the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations came to talk about the Trans Canada Trail.
They had come to talk about trail stewardship and to offer local residents the chance to help ensure the rail trail corridor in the Boundary is maintained for future generations.
Sandy Elzinga, assistant manager of Community Futures Boundary, welcomed Tennessee Trent, trails specialist with Recreation Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC) and John Hawkings, director of RSTBC. Also present was Kevin Eskelin, regional recreation manager, Southern Interior East Region – Cranbrook.
Hawkings reviewed the history of the provinces’ ownership of the trails, which includes the Carmi Subdivision of the Kettle Valley Railway that runs from Midway to Naramata, the Columbia and Western (C&W) between Midway and Grand Forks, the KVR Penticton and Osoyoos subdivisions, and the C&W from Grand Forks to Castlegar and the Slocan Subdivision.
Hawking said the Forest Practices Act that now regulates the trails didn’t even exist at the time, and it wasn’t until 2010 that RSTBC was given responsibility for these specific trails.
Today the former rail corridor is recognized in legislation as trails, but ever since the 1990s when the government bought the land, it was essentially vacant Crown land.
“There are some designations on various portions of it,” Hawking said.
But there are lots of portions where it hasn’t been designated as anything, and that is the case through most of the Boundary.
In the City of Grand Forks the trail is designated non-motorized by a municipal bylaw. It is also non-motorized through Myra Canyon Provincial Park, legally non-motorized from Naramata up to Penticton and up to Summerland. It is also non-motorized through the town of Princeton.
“The rest of it—while we are not condoning motorized use, we are indulging it there,” Hawking said. But he repeated RSTBC is willing to work with the communities to try and manage it and to resolve the issue in a way that benefits the most people.
He said RSTBC works with communities who have shown an interest in resolving the issue. He cited work done in Naramata and Summerland. “But if the communities are not interested in resolving this question, there is no resolve.”
“We are not going to start enforcing until we can go out and work with the groups,” Hawkings said, adding that he would welcome one big group of trail stewards in the Boundary who could come up with a voice to help solve the problem locally.
But trail maintenance and partnership with locals was what Hawkings and Trent had come to talk about. The top priority for RSTBC is to maintain the trails to a basic level: preventing washouts, maintaining engineering infrastructure and ensuring safety for users.
Hawking said they view the trails as community trails first, regional trails second, provincial trails third and then they become part of the national trails system.
Trent explained the Rec Sites and Trails Partnership Agreement and the Individual Volunteer Service Agreement. With a staff of fewer than 40, the RSTBC relies on some 300 partnership agreements with community groups across B.C. to be the eyes on local sections of trails and rec sites.
RSTBC provides project materials and funding for local projects as its budget allows. Volunteers working under an agreement are covered by insurance.
Area E director Vicki Gee said afterwards she is very interested in trying to move this forward as a regional district initiative. “In the past the regional district hasn’t been too enthusiastic because the government hasn’t been offering a lot of money and they are worried about downloading,” Gee said. “But if that doesn’t fly then I might approach communities about creating a regional non-profit to do this.”
Gee noted the B&B owner from Idabel Lake who told the meeting that 600- 800 cyclists come through there each year.
“If we don’t put out the effort, we are going to lose the trails,” Trent said. “What we really need are community members to step up and help us with this.”
He said stewardship groups help identify priorities and provide a local vision for the rail trail.