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Access Oceanside requests Parksville improve beach accessibility

Council optimistic about mobility chairs, other improvements require further expertise
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The Town of Qualicum Beach installed a Mobi-mat in 2021 to allow people with mobility issues to access the sandy areas. (Town of Qualicum Beach photo)

The Access Oceanside Association (AOA) has asked the City of Parksville to provide beach access at Parksville Community Park for people with limited mobility.

Rocky areas and stretches of soft sand are both impediments since they are difficult for people using a wheelchair, walker or stroller to navigate, explained Ralph Tietjen, secretary treasurer for AOA during Parksville council’s Dec. 4 meeting.

“The rocks are a tremendous barrier,” he said. “And altogether it’s about 30 metres across the whole length of the beach that acts as an impediment for people with mobility concerns to get to the hard-packed sand that is the desire.”

There are several ramps, Tietjen continued, but they have become “ramps to nowhere” that end at soft sand, logs and other blockages. He considers one of the ramps a hazard since it ends precipitously.

These barriers to the beach are an emotional subject for many people, Tietjen said.

“It’s a big difference between I can’t go onto the beach versus I don’t want to go onto the beach,” he said. “The choice has been removed for people that don’t have the ability to cross these barriers.”

AOA has proposed the city provide beach mobility chairs and Mobi-mats to improve access, hopefully for the start of the summer season in 2024.

Mayor Doug O’Brien said the tides and two prevailing winds make it difficult to keep Mobi-mats attached to the beach, in addition to damage from logs and other debris.

“The Mobi-mats have not proven to us to be a good solution,” O’Brien said. “The Town of Qualicum Beach had some Mobi-mats anyways that they actually offered us to try. They were damaged in a recent storm and they did not work on their beach as well.”

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The Qualicum Beach Mobi-mat has required near daily sweeping by town crews to remove debris, according to Rob Dickinson, the town’s director of infrastructure services.

The mobility beach chairs request seems “doable”, O’Brien said, and added the city can purchase a couple of the chairs.

Other beach accessibility improvements are better assigned to an independent consultant, the mayor said, and there is $20,000 leftover from the Accessibility Plan which could be used.

“I think we need a higher level of expertise to give us something that’s permanent that’s actually safe for you,” O’Brien said. “So to have it in place for May 24 weekend, I’m not sure that would happen just because of staff capacity.”

Tietjen said AOA would like to see progress on the issue, especially since it’s been an action item in the community park master plan since 2018. He added the plan identifies waterfront accessibility as a medium term item meant to be addressed within five to 10 years.

One-time funding of $25,000 is available through SPARC BC (Social Planning and Research Council of BC), according to Tietjen’s presentation.

Coun. Amit Gaur, liaison to AOA said he is hopeful the beach chairs can be available for the summer.

“We are proud of our beach,” he said. “As we say, like Parksville, the best beach on Vancouver Island, where some people can enjoy the beach, not everybody.”

The AOA is a non-profit organization whose mission is to raise awareness and provide education while working toward a community of inclusion for all to live, work and play in a barrier-free community.

Parksville Beach Festival Society and the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association are supporting AOA efforts to improve beach access.