The Columbia and Western trailhead in Castlegar. The province wants to convert the recreational trail back to a roadway that allows industrial use. Photo by John Boivin

National trail group decries province’s plans for West Kootenay trail

Converting trail back to motorized use will harm its international reputation, says official

The national organization overseeing Canada’s recreational trail network says it’s concerned about plans to remove the recreational designation from a stretch of the Great Canadian Trail in the West Kootenay.

An official with the Great Trail, based in Quebec, says they plan to submit a letter opposing the plan to the B.C. government.

“We are surprised and in disagreement with the plan being proposed,” says Jérémie Gabourg, the vice-president of communications and marketing at the Trans Canada Trail.

Gabourg was responding to news the province’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development wants public input into a proposal to “cancel the recreational trail designation” on a portion of the Columbia and Western Rail Trail.

SEE: West Kootenay trail designation sparks debate

Essentially, the change in designation would allow for industrial activity on the trail, with everything up to cars and logging trucks allowed to use the old CPR line.

“The proposed change reflects local interests and supports access for industrial activity,” notes a letter sent to user groups by Recreation Sites and Trails BC director John Hawkings.

The Great Trail group donated the land for the trail in 2004, notes Gabourg.

The donation was done “with the express intention to maintain and keep it as a trail,” he says. “It has a lot of cultural and historical significance, and it is an essential community asset. So when we gave it to the provincial government, it was intended to be managed as such.”

Gabourg says one of his group’s main concerns is for the safety of people using the trail.

“It’s a very narrow trail, a former rail bed, and this plan, if it comes into effect, will allow cars, SUVs and logging trucks to use this trail,” he says. “And I put myself in the shoes of people using this trail, hiking or trying to bike. It will be a very difficult co-habitation for them, where vehicles can pop up at any time.

“Let alone the impact that it has on the quality of the trail as well, that kind of usage tends to make trails a lot dustier and harder to use when you are on a bike.”

He says the province’s claim that allowing vehicles to use the trail is in line with other parts of the country, where the trail has motorized and non-motorized shared-use, is a little misleading.

“There are sections of the Great Trail that have motorized uses, but these have been chosen carefully,” he says. “They are connector routes, between two greenway trails. We selected them as interim [routes], and assessed and evaluated all the safety repercussions at the time.

“And we are working continuously to remove as many roadways as possible from our network . In the case of the Columbia and Western greenway, which is the epitome of what we want that’s being turned into a roadway, that’s a complete setback for us. So that’s where our concern is.”

He says the provincial move will actually harm the trail’s international reputation, and the group’s ability to raise funds to maintain and grow the national asset.

Gabourg says his group is drafting a letter to the province, “being as constructive as possible,” raising their concerns. He wouldn’t comment on the details of the letter, or say if the group would consider any sort of legal action to block the province’s move.

“We’re looking at all options, but I can’t comment at this time,” he says.

The public is welcome to give its input on the provincial plan until Aug. 26. Feedback can be provided to recinfo@gov.bc.ca.

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