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Friendship Trail plans move ahead

Two approaches to trail making headway

Plans to build a six kilometre trail linking Pemberton and Mount Currie communities via the rail line are moving ahead, with proponents taking two very different approaches in dealing with government and CN Rail.

Two weeks ago the Pemberton Valley Trails Association wrote a letter to both the federal and provincial governments advising them of the situation, and the difficulties they’ve had working with CN Rail. The letter stressed the importance of the Friendship Trail to the two communities, as well as the fact that the rail right-of-way still belongs to the people of B.C.

"There are many ways to solve this in a matter satisfactory to all," wrote PVTA chair Rod MacLeod, "if CN is willing to talk about how to, instead of how not to, make it work in a constructive manner that improves public service and safety. If the CN response is only bringing forward the threat of the CN Police as a means of enforcing illogical and counter-productive laws then this matter has the potential to quickly deteriorate into a messy political situation, with the likelihood of harm to everyone involved."

Many Pemberton residents use tracks to access recreation areas, including the rail bridge over the Lillooet River. CN Rail Police have been ticketing mountain bikers, hikers, disc golfers and others that have been caught using or crossing the tracks in various areas in recent months, despite the fact that there is no easy alternative in place to access those areas.

The PVTA has not received a response to their letter from government, but followed up on Monday by sending a petition signed by hundreds of residents to stakeholders and decision makers.

So far CN has been unreceptive, citing safety and liability concerns for opposing a public trail so close to the rail line. In their view, people and trains do not mix in any circumstances.

While the PVTA is going over CN’s head on the matter by requesting help from governments, another group is taking a softer approach to get CN to the table.

The Friendship Trail Project Team has been collecting information and support for a presentation they hope to bring to CN this summer. The presentation will include examples of trails that follow rail lines, as well as a detailed description of how the Friendship Trail will look.

"(CN) are basically worried about liability on that stretch (of rail), and they don’t necessarily have to provide public access, it’s not in their mandate," said team member Nathalie Klein, who became involved in the project through the Sea to Sky Leadership Program. "But we will be using a lot of examples from within the province and the rest of Canada… like Rails With Trails, that show common use (of the rail bed). Since it is a liability issue it’s going to come down to political support for building a trail that will really keep people off the tracks.

"That’s our approach and we feel pretty confident with it because we’re going to try to resolve the issues that are going on right now, which is trespassing and ticketing and a community that is quite upset with the way it is being treated."

The project team has not set a date to meet with CN but that has more to do with officials taking summer holidays than any reluctance to open a dialogue, Klein said. CN has been co-operative in supplying some information and data to the presentation, and is open to a meeting.

The goal is to have that meeting by the end of the summer, and to have all necessary approvals in place to allow trail construction to start next summer.

"This project has a lot of support in Pemberton and Mount Currie, from both councils, from representatives of other community groups," said Klein. "There’s also a lot of support from the Sea to Sky Trail Association, groups like the PVTA, and from other municipalities around the province that are watching us closely – everyone is concerned with people being told to stay off CN Rail property, and we want to see a solution that works for everybody.

"It’s a really good project, there are a lot of social and economic values to it, and it’s an excellent project for some of the goals we have set for our communities."

One of those goals is to implement the Winds of Change: A Healing Vision document, which was produced by a Mount Currie Council and Village of Pemberton Joint Task Force to improve safety in communities by reducing the impact of drugs and alcohol.

One recommendation by the task force is to build a recreational infrastructure, including a trail linking the two communities. Another recommendation was to promote healthy lifestyles, which the Friendship Trail meets by encouraging residents to walk and cycle between the two communities, while making it easier to access recreational areas.