Nanaimo councillor floats cross-Island trail

NANAIMO – Coun. George Anderson wants communities to start discussing the creation of an Island rail trail.

A cross-Island E&N trail could help steer tourists into Nanaimo into the cycling tourism market, but municipalities need to get on board with a strategy, says city councillor George Anderson.

Anderson wants Nanaimo city council to help lead local governments and the Island Corridor Foundation into discussions of a potential Island-wide E&N trail. Municipalities have talked about a major trail network for years, but until now communities have focused resources on building their own pathways. There has been no co-ordinated effort to link communities, despite potential benefits around safety, recreation and tourism, Anderson said.

“I’m not asking council to put any money down … [but] this is something municipalities along the corridor have been talking about for a while and I want to see us actually have a dialogue on how to achieve it,” he said. “It [wouldn’t] only provide recreational ability, but commute between communities and potential revenues for tourism as well.”

According to Nanaimo tourism experts, cycling tourism is becoming big business and a connector across the Island could help steer Nanaimo into the market. Dan Brady, chairman of the tourism leadership committee, said international and B.C. tourists are looking for places where they can book day cycles and longer-term trips between communities. The Capital Region’s Galloping Goose and Lochside Trails, for example, are an inter-city connector that allows people to travel from Swartz Bay to Sidney and Victoria.

While the Harbour City has trails, Brady believes an inter-city connector could build on the momentum of sport tourism and make highways safer for cyclists and pedestrians interested in traveling across the Island.

“I know a ton of people constantly ride back and forth to Victoria … and you are fighting traffic and almost getting run over,” Brady said. “The thought of the E&N being cycle-friendly … or a hiking route where people can [catch] the ferry to Victoria … ride up through Lake Cowichan and Duncan to Nanaimo – it would be world class.”

Brady and others interested in an Island link say one of the biggest questions in a project of this scope would be funding. A single kilometre of E&N trail can cost between $200,000 and $500,000, according to the City of Nanaimo. Some areas of the E&N trail – including Nanaimo’s north end – also have trestles and steep rock cliffs that are expensive to build across.

Anderson is set to start discussion about a new strategy for a cross-Island route during an open meeting Sept. 9.