A funding commitment by local government partners will be key in determining how future development of Shuswap’s trail systems takes shape.
Since its inception, what’s known today as the Shuswap Trail Alliance has been responsible for establishing 58 greenway trail projects and the completion of 70 kilometres of new trail in the Shuswap, valued at more than $1.2 million. This involves seven “signature trail systems,” including the Larch Hills Traverse from Salmon Arm to Sicamous. All of this work has been done through fundraising, volunteer and in-kind contributions. But, as trail alliance chair Winston Pain explained in a recent presentation to District of Sicamous council, the organization can no longer function on volunteer time alone.
“Basically, Phil (McIntyre-Paul, trail alliance project co-ordinator) has been doing that job at about 40 per cent of being paid… and after six years, we just hit a point where we just had to go back to our partners and ask for a commitment,” said Pain.
The commitment sought is a partnership with local governments, who would help fund the alliance’s operating costs to the tune of $100,000 annually over the next three years.
The City of Salmon Arm is onboard with their requested share of $40,000 per year, as is the Regional District of North Okanagan Area F and the City of Enderby with $10,000.
Pain said things are looking favourable regarding the Columbia Shuswap Regional District committing $40,000 per year. The request to Sicamous is for $10,000 per year, for three years.
Pain said with these commitments, as well as funding from other partners, including Shuswap Tourism, the trail alliance can secure a director (McIntyre-Paul), who can then go out leverage that will help bring the priorities of the alliance and its partners to fruition.
Without the support of local government, Pain said the alliance would likely shrink to a stewardship role, no longer developing trails.
Sicamous council did agree to forward the trail alliance’s request to their budget deliberations.
A big deciding factor for Mayor Darrell Trouton is the economy, and making sure the district is getting “bang for the buck.”
Asked if he has any data that ties trail use to economic generation, Pain admitted this is a weak point for the alliance. McIntyre-Paul noted, however, that they do have secondary research compiled in 2004-05, based on the 2002 Shuswap Tourism Opportunity Strategy.
“The trail strategy, and trail alliance itself was an economic development initiative when it first started,” explained McIntyre-Paul. “Interestingly, the Sicamous and District Chamber of Commerce… had been one of the leading proponents in developing trail infrastructure because of the tourism strategy…”
The trail alliance, McIntyre-Paul added, is working with Thompson Rivers University on possible grant funding that would help get students “on the ground” and collecting the data both the alliance and the district are interested in.
McIntyre-Paul then touched on the close partnership the alliance has with Shuswap Tourism, who together have been marketing the Shuswap and its offerings at trade shows, adding there will be a push on winter activities such as snowshoeing, which has seen an “unprecedented explosion” in popularity.
“The Enderby Cliffs, the upgrades we did there, that trail is being used for 12 months of the year now rather than just the summer, and primarily it’s snowshoers,” said McIntyre-Paul. “The Sicamous Switchbacks is also one of the destination trails that make a great winter trail system.”
While supportive of the trail alliance, Trouton stressed the need for data relating to usage and spinoffs.
McIntyre-Paul later told the News that he recognizes Sicamous values trail building – as is evident with the new community walking path along Highway 97A. He also respects the financial stress the district is under, and says that no matter what council’s decision is, the community will always be a partner/stakeholder in the Shuswap Trail Alliance. But, he adds, if council should vote against the funding request, the alliance would be “obligated to prioritize and focus efforts on projects that are directly linked to priorities” identified by partners with funding commitments.