Some Naramata residents on Tuesday night shouted down a plan to close a portion of the KVR Trail to vehicular traffic.
That was chief among concerns raised during a public meeting at which a new concept plan was unveiled for the stretch between Naramata and Chute Lake. However, the elected official for the area said the vocal minority’s views don’t represent that of the broader community.
About 200 people packed a hall at the Naramata Centre to see for the first time the plan, which was drawn up by a working group of trail users. The plan breaks that portion of the KVR into seven sections, all of which would be closed to vehicular traffic, although two of those sections would be open to shared-use by non-motorized users, like walkers and cyclists, and motorized users like ATV riders. The two shared-use portions cover Little Tunnel to Glenfir and Adra Station to Elinor FSR.
Non-motorized stretches would receive trail surface upgrades, while shared portions could be twinned or divided and receive new signage. The plan also calls for improvements to other connecting trails in the area to create more riding opportunities for motorized users, plus a couple staging areas where riders can unload their toys. Some work was expected to begin this fall, with the bulk of it proposed for next summer.
John Hawkings, provincial trails manager for the B.C. government, said the concept plan is a pilot project for conflict resolution between motorized and non-motorized users that could be applied elsewhere on the 2,000 km of rail trails the province owns.
He noted it had been “a difficult discussion” just getting the plan to the point it could be presented to the public, but said it’s based on creating maximum enjoyment and meeting the needs of all users with what is a publicly-owned asset.
The discussion got more difficult once Hawkings finished his presentation and took questions from members of the public, most of whom focused squarely on Hawkings’ declaration that on-highway vehicles, like trucks, would be banned in the concept area.
That means important sites would only be accessible to able-bodied people who can manage without a vehicle, and that’s not fair, said Scott Summers, whose son died last year when his vehicle went off the KVR near the Little Tunnel.
“I want to be able to see his memorial site forever,” Summers said.
Rob Van Westen criticized the working group for interfering with the community’s way of life.
“You’re talking about stuff that doesn’t belong to you,” he said.
“You should have come and gotten the feedback from us first before you decided what to do with our backyard.”
Andrew Drouin, who represented mountain bikers on the committee, said it would consider the idea of short-term exemption permits to allow some vehicular access for the disabled.
“We can’t give you any specifics, but there is room to work with that,” Drouin said.
The meeting was interrupted several times by people speaking out of turn or lobbing insults from the sidelines.
“It did seem that a handful of people were extremely disrespectful and outright rude,” said Karla Kozakevich, Naramata director for the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
She said many supporters of the plan were intimidated by the boisterous crowd and chose not to speak up, so they’ve emailed comments to her and Hawkings that are largely in favour of the proposal.
“Maybe a little tweaking (is desired), but they all like the design,” Kozakevich said.
She also said the ban on vehicles is still just a proposal, but noted the KVR “is a trail, not a road.”
Hawkings concluded the meeting by saying the working group heard the community loud and clear.
“I do appreciate the feedback. It will be considered,” he said.
“This is not the last you’ll hear from us; I’m sure it’s not the last we’ll hear from you.”
Reached by email Wednesday, Hawkings would not commit to another meeting date, nor say how Tuesday’s event may have changed the proposed work schedule.
“We will be considering and evaluating comments from the meeting, input received on the feedback forms as well as comments we continue to receive from the public. We will also be considering regional and provincial interests in determining next steps,” he wrote. “Any work this year would likely be limited with minimal time left in the field season.”
The concept plan is now available online at www.sitesandtrailsbc.ca.