Vernon, B.C., is a city of approximately 40,000 nestled in the Okanagan. Now, it’s home to one of the province’s, if not one of the nation’s, most picturesque track and field facilities. The Greater Vernon Athletics Park puts the city on the map for those in the running world who previously had not known about this B.C. city. Now, it’s bound to grab attention as it could become a host for future provincial and national championships.
The newly spiced up Greater Vernon Athletics Park overlooks Kalamalka Lake and officially opened to the public last September.
“People tend to gravitate towards cities that have good facilities and amenities for their kids,” says Ian Cameron, head coach of the Vernon Amateur Athletic Association (V.A.A.A). “Vernon was previously lacking that major component for track and field and cross-country.”
The track and field facility is located at Okanagan College in Coldstream, B.C., a part of Greater Vernon and southeast of the city. The addition of its bright blue track is a change from what it used to be– it was previously used as a dog walking area, according to Cameron. This is a makeover which Cameron has envisioned for quite some time. He says that he initially pitched the idea of a track facility to the Regional District of North Okanagan in August 2008.
Occasionally, V.A.A.A. practices had been held in either Kamloops (a 90-minute northwest drive) or Kelowna (a 45-minute drive to the south) because adequate running facilities were lacking in Vernon– until now. Before the construction of the new facility, runners’ only option was to train at Polson Park, a non-rubberized dirt track full of potholes made worse following a rainfall.
“The kids did really well at the previous facility [Polson Park] and we had good numbers in terms of participation,” adds Cameron. However, the Polson Park track was unable to host district or zone meets, two key levels of high school track and field in British Columbia.
Cameron had several motivations behind introducing his idea of a new track. For one, it would promote a healthier lifestyle in the North Okanagan and two, it would be a benefit for Special Olympic athletes and para-athletes who otherwise did not have a proper venue to train at.
“The Special Olympic athletes did train at [Polson] Park but it was extremely difficult because the surfaces were so uneven and there were no lanes marked,” says Cameron. “The long jump run-ups were uneven and made of asphalt and the high jump area was so uneven that it was unusable. Para-athletes interested in track and field had no place to train in the North Okanagan, period.”
In addition to being used by runners, the facility has also provided an ideal environment for walkers and other sports which require dry-land training. The infield can be used for minor football, rugby, ultimate frisbee and lacrosse.
Kamloops, B.C. native Dylan Armstrong, one of Canada’s most decorated field athletes, made appearances at the facility in the lead-up to the unveiling in September. The track now provides aspiring young athletes, including one of Canada’s fastest high school runners, Hannah Bennison, the chance to locally train without the need to extensively commute.
The track facility got the initial go-ahead in April 2013 following a city-wide referendum. According to InfoTel News, the community approved the borrowing of $7.5 million over 20 years by a margin of 4,303 (for) to 3,917 (opposed). Construction was, for the most part, completed last summer.
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The Vernon Morning Star reports that the final construction costs were $8.5 million.
Though the facility has been largely well-received, some Vernon citizens initially noted that the location at Okanagan College still requires a commute for much of the local population.