The new stretch of Highway 97 which opened in Lake Country on Friday, August 16, 2013 provides new opportunities for the whole community and region in many ways.

In terms of transportation, the four-lane section of highway, 9 kilometers in length, will provide safer and even slightly faster drive to and from Vernon. But this new stretch was built with safety in mind. Too many times, in fact, we read news of tragic accidents on the "old" stretch of Hwy 97, which is now called Pelmewash Parkway.

The opening of this new four-lane section of highway, almost entirely located in Oyama, is the result of many discussions and the vision of community leaders too many to be singled out that have created a synergy of huge proportion and have demonstrated that if all levels of government work in true partnership, good things are deemed to happen.

There are still some details very important ones in need of definition and work.

For instance, proper signage to direct people to beautiful Oyama, the "Jewel of the Okanagan", needs to be quickly produced and installed as there are important businesses in Oyama that are feeling "overlooked" because of the lack of clear identification of where motorists can exit the highway to go to this historical Lake Country ward. In addition, the Tourism Development Commission made the decision this year to locate the tourism info centre on the Gatzke Orchards and so it is critical that tourism traffic be diverted towards that Visitor Information Centre.

Legal work to fully transfer the jurisdiction and ownership of what is now called Pelmewash Parkway needs to be completed and approved by both the provincial government and the District of Lake Country. This may take a few months, maybe even a year, so questions about maintenance of the Parkway and conditions of the road when it is transferred will have to be answered and resolved. Staff from both levels of government are working to speed this process.

However, problems aside (which need to be resolved quickly), there is a major opportunity for Lake Country when Pelmewash Parkway becomes a municipal road. Things like recreation corridor', Community News', and enjoyment of the natural environment' come to mind. In early 2013 the District began a planning and visioning process and a number of public sessions were held in the last few months. A Pelmewash Parkway Plan Options' presentation developed from the public input gathered to date is scheduled for September 24th, from 5pm to 7pm at the Municipal Hall, across the street from George Elliott Secondary School. All members of the community are invited to participate and contribute ideas to what the Parkway should look and feel like.

Certain things are already happening. The Parkway will not be a main highway thoroughfare anymore. For this reason the speed limit was lowered to 50 km per hour. As a result, more cyclists and walkers are gracing this beautiful stretch of road and we hope that more and more will join. Truck traffic has generally been diverted to the new highway unless they are heading to Oyama.

The discussion about the vision for Pelmewash Parkway is an important one as it will shape the future of the community in many ways. It will certainly shape and affect Oyama and it will be a fundamental component of how Lake Country will position itself literally, if I may say on the map of the Okanagan Valley and in the eyes of the entire world.

I have driven the new highway a few times already and I am taken by the stunning view of both Wood Lake and Kalamalka Lake, divided only by the Oyama isthmus, that are admired as soon as the highway rises and turns after leaving Winfield.

It made me think how fortunate and blessed we are to live here and how much we have to offer to the rest of the world. If this is done right, Oyama will become more than just the "Jewel of the Okanagan". It will become its diamond.