The barking about a dog ban on the Westside Legacy Trail (WLT) has led officials to look into a possible renegotiation.
A recent letter to the editor in the Pioneer by Mark Halwa, executive director of the Columbia Valley Greenways Trail Alliance, launched a fury of debate in the Columbia Valley. The letter (published October 27th), stated dogs were not allowed on the new trail, which resulted in an extensive debate in social media over the decree, many feeling Greenways intentionally hid that fact from potential donors who now feel duped.
Local dog owner Lana Banham was one such commenter online who admitted she thought it was just a rumour that dogs would not be allowed on the multi-million dollar trail.
“I do think they could’ve done a better job at getting that information out to the public from the outset,” Ms. Lanham said to the Pioneer. “I think a lot of people are feeling gypped.”
But Mr. Halwa said the rule regarding dogs was never hidden.
“I made 44 public presentations about this project: some to local politicians, the majority to the general public. During those public presentations, all kinds of questions were asked,” Mr. Halwa said in an interview with the Pioneer. “In some presentations, people asked about dogs and they’ve never been denied.”
Mr. Halwa said if every item found in the Statutory Right of Way and agricultural land permit was listed at a public meeting, it would take hours.
“Different things have a differing significance to everyone. And dogs, no doubt, it’s a bigger one. It’s never not been disclosed and it’s always been responded to,” Mr. Halwa stated.
The dog decision was not made by Greenways; they are not even listed on the initial agreement signed between the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) and the property owners over whose land the trail will cross.
“I walked up and down Westside road and talked to all the landowners many times. I took down what they said. We turned it into an agreement and that agreement is between the RDEK and landowners,” Mr. Halwa stated.
The RDEK signed the initial agreement for a Statutory Rights of Way with the landowners in 2015. It included a clause that prohibited dogs or horses on the trail.
But the letter and subsequent public outcry led the RDEK board at the November meeting to request staff to contact the private landowners along the WLT to discuss the provision prohibiting dogs on the trail, and to explore whether having dogs on leash may be acceptable.
“It’s important to note the RDEK hasn’t made any decision about whether they want dogs or not. We’re asking the landowners whether they would be amenable to that agreement,” explained Andrew McLeod, RDEK planning and development services manager.
The initial agreement signed between the RDEK and landowners granted the RDEK the right to construct, operate, and maintain the trail. The RDEK then signed a separate agreement with the Columbia Valley Greenways Trail Alliance to take on the trail contract.
Mr. Halwa is optimistic about the trail construction so far, and wants the community to move forward with a positive attitude about what we do have: access to a world-class trail thanks to private landowner’s donations.
“The vision of the Westside Legacy Trail was to share a beautiful place in the Valley with everyone. Let’s be thankful for the access to private land which the trail is built upon, and the generous donations which have made construction possible,” Mr. Halwa reflected. “Be respectful for what has been given, and mindful of asking for more.”
Once completed, the $5 million, 25-kilometre paved trail will run from Invermere to Fairmont Hot Springs. Nearly six kilometres of the trail was completed this fall. Segment one of the trail can be accessed on Westside Road past the entrance to Castle Rock Estates.