BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Times change
There will be some residents disappointed to learn there won’t be Vernon Racing Days this summer.
They look forward to the camaraderie, placing bets and the thrill of the action. They remember the glory days when huge crowds converged on Kin Race Track for the biggest game in town.
However, the reality is that the crowds have shrunk significantly over the years even as the region’s population has exploded.
Many people spend their weekends working now, a departure from when Sunday was considered a day of rest. Families are running off in each direction as kids tackle a range of activities, and perhaps the most critical factor are the expanded gambling opportunities now — from casinos and scratch-and-win to online betting.
The broad interests of the public have shifted.
And that was extremely evident during a recent open house on possibly replacing Civic Arena as an ice sheet. The plan calls for twinning Kal Tire Place to the north, but some at the meeting questioned why the race track wasn’t being used.
“The idea that they are holding up improvement of our facilities is unfortunate,” said resident Dave DeShane referring to the Okanagan Equestrian Society, which runs Vernon Racing Days and is fighting its 2010 eviction from the track.
“We could have four ice sheets and ball diamonds there, and have facilities like other communities do.”
In fact, the Regional District of North Okanagan has developed a long-term concept for the 43rd Avenue site, including possibly sports fields, two arenas, a BMX track, a gymnastics facility and trails. Now that the city is taking over complete ownership of the property, the potential uses may evolve a bit but the ultimate goal is recreational activities beyond horse racing.
Even if twinning of Kal Tire Place proceeds, the adjacent race track property could play a critical role as replacement parking for Kal Tire Place visitors will be needed. It could also possibly become the new home of the Vernon Farmers Market, which could be displaced by a new ice sheet.
Deciding to pull the plug on racing days this year was obviously difficult for the Okanagan Equestrian Society board.
“It’s disappointing for us because we are the stewards of horse racing in Vernon,” said Ed Woolley, society spokesperson.
Obviously they are a passionate group and deserve significant praise for their dedication.
However, keep in mind that there have only been three or four races a summer in recent years and other than people training privately owned horses, no other activities occur at the track. And no matter who you believe is responsible for the situation — the society or the City of Vernon — the reality is the infrastructure at the track has seen better days. The cost of repairs compared to overall usage would make most people question the return on the investment.
As someone whose family’s Okanagan roots go back more than a century, I have deep admiration for our traditions and those people who keep them alive. We, in the Okanagan, have a rich culture and heritage and it should be celebrated.
But we all know that traditions come and go based on demographics and the evolving interests of the community. There are events that were around for years that no longer exist for various reasons. Treasured landmarks are gone.
In some cases, the demise of festivities or buildings were premature, while others ran their natural course.
Ultimately, the debate over the future of Kin Race Track will have to end and a final decision made.