Cyclists and ATVs fighting for right of way on Kettle Valley Railway

A long-simmering conflict between ATV users and cyclists is coming to a boil along the Kettle Valley Railway, where the federal and provincial governments spent millions to replace the Myra Canyon railway trestle after it was destroyed by the Kelowna forest fire in 2003.

In many locations along the route, recently resurfaced parts of the trail are being degraded by ATV users, whose wide, knobbly tires often churn the surface to loose sand. That’s no problem for an ATV, but the end of the road for a cyclist.

Now the BC Cycling Coalition has weighed in with an appeal to Victoria to enforce bans on ATV use along the old railroad right of way, which has emerged as the province’s leading cycle tourism destination. ATV users are pushing to have the entire route opened up for them.

The Coalition’s efforts have ignited resistance from ATV riders, even on a leading cycling listserve I follow regularly. This is not surprising, given that the route is passes through a number of recreational areas where it serves as an offroad link for communities where ATVS are the preferred way to get around.

I experienced the impact of ATV use when my family toured most of the KVR in 2005. There were many stretches where it was clear that cycling would soon be impossible if ATV use continued to break down the packed gravel roadbed.

The KVR’s problems aren’t unique. Conflict between non-motorized traffic and others, including snowmobilers, is a national issue.

But the controversy in the Okanagan underlines the need for a provincial cycling strategy that ensures the economic benefits of cycling — now reinforced with millions of dollars of bridge restoration — aren’t lost to motorized traffic elsewhere on the route.