A trail along the E&N Railway from Parksville to Coombs that has been in the works for eight years, could be finished this year.
“It will be, it has to be — we’ll have shovels in the ground by the end of May,” said Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) Parks and Trail Coordinator Joan Michel.
The RDN board gave the green light in February after shuffling some budget priorities and receiving the latest cost update, Michel said.
“We like to locate trailheads in public parks,” she said, explaining the benefits of parking and infrastructure like washrooms, “so the trailhead in Parksville will be in Springwood Park, which is perfectly located.”
Following 2009 design guidelines established with the right-of-way owning non-profit Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), local governments and interests, the trail will be three metres wide, hard-packed gravel following beside the rail line to Station Road in Coombs, within sight of the Goats on the Roof tourist destination.
The goal is a 290-km bike and pedestrian trail along the entire length of the railway from Victoria to Port Alberni and Courtenay, and some districts like Victoria and Cowichan already have completed sections, but this will be the first in the RDN, Michel said.
Though the new trail will initially be a seven-kilometre standalone segment, it will connect with work being done by Parksville around the new water treatment facility, which will eventually extend the existing Top Bridge trail system to Springwood Park and total around 20 km.
A feasibility study into the rail-trails was done in 2008 and a change in how the federal gas tax funding could be used finally made the project a real possibility in 2013, Michel said, though the originally planned companion segment from Parksville to French Creek had to be dropped from the current plan and will now be a separate phase.
The 2009 budget estimate was $2.6 million for both Parksville segments, which Michel said was very preliminary, but the new budget estimates the cost in the $3 to $4 million range for the Parksville-Coombs stretch alone.
The latest report to the board points out the $2.6 million gas tax funds are still available, along with Community Works Funds freed up by area directors Joe Stanhope and Julian Fell ($400,000 from Area F, $125,000 from Area G) and $671,000 in the RDN parks budget.
The final budget will be determined through the competitive bidding process.
The 2009 study said there is 83 km of feasible rail trail corridor in the RDN, which would cost $28.7 million.
Michel said once they got down to the detailed planning work of assessing every inch of the railway and sorting out property rights, agricultural land reserve issues and bridges, progress was slow and complex.
Working with Parksville’s Koers Engineering on the preliminary work, the proposal received a warm welcome at an open house in Parksville in the spring of 2014.
The RDN undertook a parallel process and already has five pre-qualified mid-Island firms ready to submit proposals, due March 17, after which more details will be known. Michel said she hopes the contract will be awarded at the April 26 RDN board meeting.
Visit www.rdn.bc.ca/cms.asp?wpID=3195 for more information, or search “RDN rail trail.”