2015 Okanagan Trestles Tour’s Spirit of Renewal
By Christian Downes
Located in one of the most scenic regions in British Columbia, the Okanagan Trestles Tour (July 4, 2015) offers multiple photo opps.
Multi-use railways have typically afforded riders of varying skill levels the opportunity to make outdoor excursions to beautiful areas steeped in wild conservation and natural history. The Okanagan Trestles Tour begins July 4, 2015, and offers participants two safe, fun routes traversing converted railways along 80 km of the historic Kettle Valley Rail Trail located in one of the most scenic regions in all of British Columbia.
Multiple travel routes compose the 600 km national park, but cyclists can expect maintained trails with minimal grades, making the picturesque journey along valleys, verdant mountain forests and sweeping vistas from numerous overlooks easily manageable. Additional sites exist just off the trails, which exhibit artifacts more than 100 years old and range from locomotives to mining camps and related memorabilia. Now, with the 12th anniversary of the Okanagan Mountain Fire, there’s never been a better time to celebrate the spirit of history and renewal.
The region’s history is heavily imbued with the spirit of discovery. The aboriginal peoples of Okanagan had migrated from the northern territories, first inhabiting the ridgelines and later the valley’s basin.
In 1811, David Stuart of the Pacific Fur Company traveled to the Okanagan, later establishing the Brigade Trail through the valley and prompting a flourishing fur trade and subsequent numbers of fortune seekers.
Missionaries also ventured into the rugged heart of the Okanagan Valley, led by the formidable Father Pandosy who founded a mission in 1859 bearing his name. The members settled on a bend of what is now known as Duck Lake, parallel to the great Okanagan Lake. The Father Pandosy Mission is now a Provincial Historical Site.
In 1910, Andrew McCulloch began construction of the Kettle Valley Railway, which would connect the Kootenays to the coast of British Columbia. As one would expect, there was adversity and many difficulties over the course of six years, but the railway was eventually built in 1916. The endeavor earned the moniker “McCulloch’s Wonder” due to the impressive engineering required for its construction and completion.
Conversion of the abandoned Kettle Valley Railway, with its breathtaking scenery, has made this passage one of the most vibrant and engaging routes in Canada. The safe accessibility makes it suitable for casual, family cycling and leisurely day trips. Riders seeking to extend their experience can find several options for camping and other accommodations — meaning trips into the area won’t have to be limited to day or weekend excursions. This unique region will convince mountain bikers to stay as long as possible to experience the rich blend of natural beauty and Canadian history.
Myra Canyon was designated as a Canadian National Historic Site in 2002. Less than a year later, many of the structures and surrounding areas were ravaged by wildfires, destroying 12 wooden trestles and damaging two steel trestles. The Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society and the Federal Government Disaster Fund began work soon thereafter in October 2004, with a great effort to restore the railway structures — $17.5 million was spent in the process. Restoration was successfully completed on March 21, 2008, reopening the way for anxious cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts to access Ruth Station via Myra Station. The 100th anniversary of the original construction of the Myra Canyon trestles was celebrated in 2014.
The Myra Station area gives visitors exactly what they’re looking for. Views of the canyon are stunning and the region boasts 18 trestles and two tunnels in the first few kilometers. These structures were raised between 1912 and 1914. Some roads are paved and the Forest Service road is well maintained.
In a recent interview with the event’s organizer, Glenn Bond, his palpable enthusiasm for the tour was keenly focused: “Keep it Okanagan! Community involvement has always been key; everyone takes great pride in the area, and supporting the Myra Canyon Trestles Restoration Society with a truly memorable ride is a great way to do both.”
Bond explains, “We wanted to partner with a non-profit from the start, to give back to the trail themselves and the beauty of the route. The [Restoration] Society is a perfect fit — they were the main group that lobbied for the national historic site. Seeing the trestles in flames shortly after the society’s success was heartbreaking, but travelling the area now, you can see so much has been rebuilt to a much higher standard.”
A long-time resident of the Okanagan, Bond spoke in-depth about the ride: “This self-paced recreational tour is non-competitive and an excellent opportunity to make a one-day trip through the historic Kettle Valley Rail Trail. With the popularity of grand fondos, we wanted to offer the public an alternative, to take the path less traveled — literally; it’s not a competition. When we first rode it, we figured out the logistics so that riders could experience a tour that transitions with ease and proves to be one people will look forward to riding again.”
The 80 km route starts at Myra Canyon/Kelowna and comprises 20 trestles and bridges, as well as four tunnels. Expect a generous flat stretch for the first 36 kilometers followed by a gentle, 2.2 percent decline the entire way to Penticton Lakeside Hotel and Resort. The shorter 40 km ride starts mid-way, at Chute Lake Resort, and also finishes in Penticton. Cyclists completing the ride will be welcomed by a finish line celebration, with live music, a barbecue, wine, beer, cider and sundries. Additionally, there will be multiple rest stops offering snacks and refreshments, mechanical and first aid support along the way. Mountain bikes are recommended for both route options.
According to Bond, age shouldn’t be a concern for the tour either. He believes most active people can do either distances without issue and states, “There will be eight aid stations positioned every 12–15 km to assist with any challenges. We want to further develop a ride that grows community and at the same time engages history and the beauty of the natural world. Excellent care and various precautions have been taken to assure that participants and their bikes are well cared for.”
Talking about the route Bond says, “Within a kilometer, you’re at the first trestle, and the views from each offer numerous photo opportunities — whether at Chute Lake, or at the foot of rock formations and towering rock walls, tunnels and more. People spend more time exploring Chute Lake (keep in mind, there’s no rush!). There’s also a museum with artifacts from the rail line and a great restaurant at Chute Lake — the homemade apple pie is excellent and worth stopping for, but she’ll run out!“
Riders will reach Ruth Station within the first 12 kilometers. Preserved by the Kettle Valley Steam Heritage Society, Prairie Valley Station, located in Summerland, will feature the first rest stop of the ride. This area is the only section of the Kettle Valley Railway that offers a truly genuine perspective on historical rail line travel. Photo and journaling opportunities abound as the area features locomotives, passenger coaches and assorted railway memorabilia. Along the way you will travel through the Prairie Valley, cross the Trout Creek Trestle Bridge (built in 1913) and pass Giant Head Mountain.
Chute Lake Lodge is reached after 36 km and signifies the starting line for the 40 km event. Chute Lake Resort features pastoral cabins and lodge rooms and an antique museum. The long gentle downhill route to Penticton goes through the heart of Okanagan Wine Country, with vineyards on both sides of the rail trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to stop and take in views from the north and south sides of Little Tunnel. Carry on to Arawana Station and then the McCulloch Trestle Bridge, named after Kettle Valley Railway’s chief engineer, Andrew McCulloch, which designates the 74.4 km mark and the last of the bridges — a mere five kilometers from the finish line celebration.
Past criticisms of the tour have mentioned difficulty with a previous year’s trestle-out detour. When asked if the 2015 event will feature anything similar, Bond replied, “There is no bypass on this year’s tour, and although mountain bikes are recommended to meet the occasional bumps and sandy patches, there is nothing to worry about.”
Interested in volunteering? Individuals hoping to contribute their skills to the process are always welcome. Bond says, “We’ve had a great group of volunteers from the beginning — mechanical support riders are coming from three [bike] shops. The area’s remote so great care has been taken in planning self-contained aid stations, truck transport of bikes and participants, but help at the end of the day is always sought and appreciated.”
Visit okanagantrestlestour.com for more information.
Can’t make the event but planning to ride the Kettle Valley Railway trails and trestles? Visit kettlevalleyrailway.ca for a local perspective and helpful tips. The Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society also offers GPS tracks and interactive maps at myra-trestles.com.