There’s no reason why Qualicum Bay residents with physical disabilities can’t go for a bush experience, whether they walk, roll or something in between.
That’s because the Regional District of Nanaimo on Saturday officially opened the first fully accessible trail in the district.
The 2.5-kilometre section of manicured trail marks the start of a major new accessble outdoor feature for the RDN, said chair Joe Stanhope at the ceremony.
“Like many of you, I draw great strength from time spent in the forests and by the rivers and streams of our beautiful Vancouver Island,” Stanhope said. “No one should miss the opportunity to wander along a trail, stare up the trunk of a huge Douglas fir, gaze at salmon fry in a creek and munch on the occasional huckleberry.”
The trail, he said, is designed for people who rely on wheelchairs, scooters and other aids to get around and who are often shut out from the parks and trails experience because of rough terrain.
“In time, when the bridges are completed over Nile and Thames Creeks, you’ll be able to start her and walk, roll or ride to downtown Bowser without having to take a car or walk down the side of the highway,” he said.
The bulk of the work was carried out over the fall and winter of 2011, with help from a $270,000 grant from the Province of B.C. and the Island Coastal Economic Trust. As well, the Job Opportunity Program supplied skilled workers to do the job right. An additional $460,000 came from the Regional Parks budget of the RDN.
“When you’re out on the trail you’ll see the fine work they did on the tapping edge for the sight impaired and the great wood carvings they left for us,” Stanhope said.
Area H director Bill Veenhof said he saw the project as one of building connections.
“It connects elderly people with young people, it connects people with nature and us with each other,” he said. “The fact this is the first accessible trail in the RDN is huge.”
Veenhof noted the idea began as a concept in 1997 and, by 1998 a large number of volunteers had begun flagging trees and blazing a route along undeveloped roads. This spring, the final finishing touches to the first section of the trail were completed.
Bert Abbott from the Spinal Cord Society knows only too well the frustrations that can come to a person in a wheelchair who wants to enjoy a bit of the outdoor experience in the woods.
“Getting out on the trails has always been a challenge,” he said. “You start out with your family and then there’s a big root you can’t get across and they have to haul your butt over it and then there’s a whole bunch of rocks and then there’s another big root and when you finally get close to where you want to go, you get to the big mud pit. That puts an end to our fabulous day in the woods.”
Regan Myers of the Accessible Wilderness Society said he worked with the district to fine-tune the trail and was delighted with the result.
“Our group has assessed this trail and approved it,” he said. “It works for almost everyone.”
Myers noted his group publishes special guides that detail which parks are accessible in the province and how far you can go on their trails before there’s a problem.
“This trail will be featured in our next guide,” he said. “We are hoping to bring tourists through our work and this is one of the places they’re going to come.”
Project manager Joan Michel noted the trail is just a part of the overall regional district trail system that she hopes one day will allow pedestrians to walk from Courtenay to Parksville in a woodland setting.
Michel, along with the parks staff who worked long hours to make the dream a reality received special thanks from Stanhope.
When the speeches were done, participants took to the woods to check out the natural beauty.
Perhaps the feeling of the day was summed up best by veteran walker and man about town Phil St. Luc.
“This is fantastic,” he said. “It’s a nice trail and it’s good for everyone no matter who it is, whether they use wheelchairs, walkers, canes … you name it.”