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'A real step backward' — Recreation Groups blast plan to remove trail designation from Columbia, Western Rail Trail

The rail bridge on the Columbia and Western Rail Trail is popular for off-road riders from spring through until fall. — Photo courtesy Trails Society of BC

Concern is growing for recreation groups in the Boundary, West Kootenay after Recreation Sites and Trails BC with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development proposed cancelation of trail designation for the former Canadian Pacific Railway line route between Castlegar and Christina Lake.

Recreation Sites and Trails BC is proposing to turn the 67 kilometer section of the Columbia and Western Rail Trail — formally known as the Trans Canada Trail — into a road tenure.

Trails Society of BC, opposed to the change, is encouraging the public to write the Director of Recreation Sites and Trails BC to object to the move to allow motorized vehicles on the rail trails.

Ciel Sander, Board President of the Trails Society of BC said government should instead properly fund and manage this route as a linear greenway or linear Provincial Park.

“We could have an epic low carbon recreational rail trail in south central British Columbia,” Sander, said in a media release. “Turning this rail trail into a road is a real step backward for the many B.C. residents who enjoy cycling, walking and rolling for recreation.”

Sander, who lives in Greenwood, said there has never been an appropriate public consultation in Castlegar or Christina Lake to get the user designation worked out to his knowledge. 

She said the trail was designated as a non-motorized rail trail with the Spirit of 2010 Trail initiative as part of the Trans Canada Trail. 

“The Columbia and Western Rail Trail is almost 164 long, making it valuable as an economic driver for rail trail tourism throughout our Kootenay Boundary region, including where I live in Greenwood, BC,” Sander explained.  

“These rail trails are owned by the crown, which means that the Province is supposed to manage them for the public benefit.”

The Recreational Sites and Trail Branch BC with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said no decision has been made to cancel the recreation trail designation on a portion of the Columbia and Western Rail Trail.

“Right now, the ministry is currently reaching out to trail users and other stakeholders to get their input,” a spokesperson for the Recreational Sites and Trail Branch BC with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said.

“Prior to any final decisions, feedback is being gathered from First Nations, local government, stakeholders and the public.”

In a media release, the Trails Society of BC said a recently released Report on the Budget 2020 Consultation highlighted the concerns of several organizations regarding non-motorized trails and included the following recommendation to “increase operational funding for BC Parks and Recreation Sites and Trails BC to support staffing, monitoring and enforcement, maintenance, public safety, and recreational infrastructure.”

The public is urged to provide feedback to recinfo@gov.bc.ca by August 26, 2019.

The ministry said many portions of the Great Trail are composed of roads or rustic trails;  if the province does change the designation of this section, there will be no impact to the Great Trail designation as public use and access is expected to remain as they have been if the change is approved.

However, Sander doesn’t see it that way.

“The Columbia and Western Rail Trail is a high value asset as a destination rail trail for low-carbon tourism and it serves as an important conservation greenway corridor for wildlife,” she said.

“There is heritage value that is of value to Canada that will be lost if it loses its recreational trail designation and is turned into a road officially.”

These tracks from a motorized vehicle are taken along the Columbia & Western Railway. — Photo courtesy Trails Society of BC