Bright pink strings attached to stakes mark the new path on a section of the Kettle Valley Railway Trail near Kaleden that had been shut off to the public for months.
It also marks what appears to be the first steps leading to a positive conclusion of negotiations between landowner Debi McGinn and the provincial government. In December, McGinn fenced off a portion of the KVR Trail that ran through her property, forcing the public to detour around Alder Avenue. This was after McGinn couldn’t work out a deal with the provincial government to keep the trail open through a property exchange agreement.
“We wanted to provide the trail, but we wanted fair compensation for it,” said McGinn.
Two weeks ago, McGinn said she met with the provincial trail manager to present an alignment she believes the province will accept. This prompted the property owner to take early steps to reopen the trail to the public as a sign of good faith. But it was the tactic of closing off the trail to public use with a four-foot-high fence that had generated some hostility by trail users that encouraged them to contact politicians.
“We took down the please email your MLA sign and replaced it with directional signage to the trail. I’m glad to have our community happy because it was stressful for us having done that within our own community and having criticism from people that are our neighbours,” said McGinn, who is positive about the negotiations but added should things go sideways the trail could close again.
John Hawkings, provincial trail manager, said they are working co-operatively with the landowners to come up with a long-term solution to ensure the primary objective of public trail access and so McGinn can meet her objectives with the property. Hawkings said the province knows the trail section is highly used and many people made sure that was apparent by contacting their MLAs or the province with their frustrations.
“We are in very preliminary discussions. Land administration procedures with Crown land are long and extensive. They are going to involve discussions with First Nations, of course, other interests and right-holders,” said Hawkings. “We are all going to do the best we can to work through those processes as fast as we can. We are still looking at what is required and what the possibilities are to make sure both parties can achieve their objectives.”
McGinn said she proposed to give the province a 250-metre swath of their property that is about 15m wide in exchange for a triangle tip of Crown property at the road end of Alder Avenue. The narrow finger runs along Okanagan Lake. Hawkings would not confirm this or say which options are available for the negotiations, but said the province will continue to meet with McGinn over the next few weeks to refine what options are available.
“We haven’t gotten that far to determine what will be contemplated. That will determine what level of public process is required. If the question is, is the community going to have some input or say into it, I would say absolutely,” said Hawkings.
McGinn said she and her husband have been waiting in “limbo” to build their home on the property, causing them headaches as they wait to figure out setbacks, which also has put a pause on their home design plans.
At a town hall meeting in Penticton in late December with Premier Christy Clark and Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson, it was learned that a subdivision application McGinn had submitted was before the province and a land exchange would not be pursued until that subdivision process was complete. McGinn has since withdrawn the subdivision application.