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Opening phase of new trail successful

Volunteers looking forward to another season of work converting an old rail bed to a trail connecting Cranbrook and Wardner.
Phase One of converting a old rail bed to a trail connecting Cranbrook to Wardner was completed last year

Trails BC is gearing up for another season of work on a project utilizing an old rail line to connect Cranbrook and Wardner, in a similar fashion to the hugely-popular North Star Rails to Trails.

In partnership with National Trans Canada Trail Foundation as the primary funding partner with $210,000 contribution last year, the project also received support from the Regional District of East Kootenay, Columbia Basin Trust, Recreation Sites and Trail BC.

Now that winter has passed, organizers are pursuing more funding opportunities for the new season and volunteers are getting ready to continue the necessary work to convert the rail corridor to a proper trail.

Beginning just outside of Cranbrook, the trail winds up Isadore Canyon and follows Highway 3/93 out towards Wardner, that will bypass private interests out near Mayook.

A three-year project at a cost of roughly $1 million, it will be a part of the Trans Canada Trail network.

"The Trans Canada Trail is about connecting Canadians and communities and this initiative certainly does that—we are connecting the city of Cranbrook to our rural communities of Mayook and Wardner," said Trails BC director Al Skucas.

Currently the plan for this year is to work on sections in Crown land.

"We want to finish off all the rail grade sections on Crown land towards Wardner and we want to start the trail around Mayook," said Skucas.

"We find that's going to be the most challenging part of the whole project because it's rougher terrain, it's hard to get equipment in there, it's just more time-consuming to do that there.

"We are committed to developing some trail around Mayook."

The work around Mayook will take some more time as the property that the rail line sits on was sold to private landowners. Project planners will have to bypass the private property as the trail snakes out towards Wardner.

He added that the trail will feature an crushed gravel surface that will have the potential to promote healthy active living and be a recreational asset that will help boost tourism in the region.

Based on the usage of the North Star Rails to Trails, Skucas envisions the new trail enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities for regional communities that will make the area a popular destination for trail users.

Under Phase One last year, there was approximately 7.5 km of rail trail resurfaced to Pritchard Road and a new scenic loop connector trail link was built to a trail amenity at the Highway 3/93 Ramparts rest area.

Preliminary work was also started on a section of the Wardner to Tokay Hills Rail grade section for 2.2 km.

Skucas added that there is some minor work to be done on the trail section to Pritchard Road but it is usable in its current state.

At this time, cycling is not recommended on the Rampart Connector section as the gravel surface is still wet and hasn't completely set. However, walkers are encouraged to come out and try out the new trail.

There are plans to do some work to the trail just outside of Cranbrook in Isadore Canyon, but the rail corridor is also a right-of-way for piping to the spray irrigation ponds, which the city plans to replace soon, according to Skucas.

That reason was mostly work on the trail started outside of city limits en route to Wardner.

"We are so pleased with the generous funding from the Trans Canada Trail Foundation. The support for Phase One of the Cranbrook to Wardner destination trail project will ensure that momentum for the project will carry forward in to the ensuing years," said Skucas.

Although matching funding is yet to be completely raised for Phase Two of the project, it is well on the way to raising a good portion of the funds, according to Skucas, who says the project has enjoyed support from a broad range of groups and agencies.