Enhancing Tourism Through Rail Trail Development

The Thompson Okanagan enjoys an extensive Rail Trail network as a result of decommissioned Railway lines throughout the region. These “Rail Trails” as they are developed will provide an opportunity to attract cycling and hiking enthusiasts of many ages and abilities to the region.

Key to the attraction of these trail networks is the less than 3% grade or incline at any point along the trails, making them easily accessible for to a wide range of cycling or hiking abilities.

There are three primary rail trails within our region with a fourth currently in the process of being developed.

  • The Kettle Valley Rail Trail (Midway to Hope)
  • The Columbia & Western Rail Trail (Castlegar to Midway)
  • The Okanagan Rail Trail (Coldstream to Kelowna)
  • And the yet to be named Rail Trail from Enderby to Sicamous

The rail trail corridors are managed either by a local municipality, a first nation community, provincial parks or the BC government, through the Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development.

riding-rail-trails

In the spring of 2016 Thompson Okanagan Tourism (TOTA), with funding and support from Destination BC (DBC), hired a consulting group to prepare the Thompson Okanagan Regional Rail Trails Tourism Strategy.

This strategy, completed in March of 2016 was developed with a focus on the Kettle Valley and Columbia Western Rail Trail route (the Trans Canada Trail section in the TOTA Region); however, it has broader implications for all the region’s rail trails.

In the Fall of 2017 TOTA was awarded $500,000 from the BC government through the Rural Dividend Grant to implement core development projects for the ongoing success of the rail trail networks.

TOTA has two primary focuses regarding the development of the rail trail corridors. The first focus is to work with government to determine usage regulation on different portions of the rail trail networks. Currently large portions of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail and the Columbia & Western Rail Trail are not designated for a certain type of use, resulting in motorized/non-motorized conflicts. We are working with both non-motorized and motorized tourism stakeholders to help the governing bodies make logical decisions regarding usage for the future sustainability and economic benefits of these trail systems.

TOTA also focuses on infrastructural improvements and marketing. Funding from the Rural Dividend Grant will go directly towards:

  • Kiosk and Wayfinding Signage
  • Further development of the bcrailtrails.com webpage
  • Wifi hotspots along certain portions of the trails
  • User research

The TOTA Rail Trail initiative project lead is Ellen Walker-Matthews, VP, together with Mike Overend, Destination Development Program Specialist.

Riding the trestles in Myra Canyon near Kelowna.

Riding the trestles in Myra Canyon near Kelowna.