Last week I cycled around the riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay for the fifth year in a row. I take seven days to cover the trails and highways, stopping at cafes and restaurants along the way to meet with constituents and ride with them on their trails. This year I took care to meet in open-air patios where we could talk at a distance. And once again the ride lived up to its expectations — good conversations on a wide variety of topics, great weather and the stunning scenery across this beautiful riding.
I started the ride with a few fellow cyclists at Glenfir, about eight kilometres north of Naramata on the Kettle Valley Railway trail. We arrived in Penticton in time for breakfast and a surprise visit by Mike Farnworth, the BC Minister of Public Safety. Since the Christie Mountain fire was still burning and the Emergency Operations Centre was only a block away, I took the minister to the EOC to discuss the fire fighting and evacuation responses and lessons learned from previous years.
After an ice-cream stop in Okanagan Falls and lunch in Oliver, I got back in the car at Osoyoos and drove to Big White, the northwest corner of the riding. I met with local business people over breakfast the next morning, then got back on to the KVR trail at McCulloch and cycled the 60 km to Beaverdell.
We met several groups of cyclists on the trail who all praised the route while strongly suggesting that it be maintained in better condition for cyclists. At Carmi we passed a BC Wildfire checkpoint keeping people out of the Carmi Creek area where a fire was actively burning. The woman manning the checkpoint was full of praise for the ground and air crews fighting the fire and another on Solomon Mountain across the valley.
Over pizza in Rock Creek I had a brief chat with the local school principal about schools reopening and a longer talk with a local businessman about the improving economic outlook for Beaverdell as people move to and recreate in the natural beauty of the West Kettle Valley.
The next day I continued down the KVR trail to Rock Creek, where I toured the new Riverside Centre, an exciting new addition to the region that provides visitor information, social services, a trails office and banking services supplied by the Osoyoos Credit Union. We had supper at the Keg and Kettle Grill in Midway, a new restaurant that is doing a thriving business in challenging times.
On the fourth morning I met up with Ciel Sander, the local trail co-ordinator, for the ride up to Eholt and down to Grand Forks. Ciel graciously lent me her fat-tired e-bike, pointing out that the surface of this section is in terrible shape and difficult for normal bikes like mine.
Members of the Grand Forks cycle club met us near Eholt (in the middle of the very dark Hodges Tunnel to be exact!) and pointed out the difficulty in maintaining rocky and sandy parts of the trail when it is shared with motor vehicle traffic. Thanks to those fat tires (and the electric pedal assist!), I arrived for lunch in Grand Forks on time where another group had gathered for discussions on the sidewalk patio with topics ranging from concerns around 5G cell tower rollouts to politics at all levels.
I dropped in on the new bike store in downtown Grand Forks to chat with the owner about encouraging cycling (bike stores everywhere have been overwhelmed by business during COVID) while I surreptitiously checked out e-bikes with fat tires.
Since Grand Forks marked the middle point of my trip, now is a good point to wrap up this column and I’ll finish the report next week. Happy trails!
Richard Cannings is the Member of Parliament for South Okanagan-West Kootenay