Marnie Essery and Bobbi Neal

Marnie Essery and Bobbi Neal

Highlands park holds path to nature for all

Loop trail designed for wheelchair, scooter access

Loop trail designed for wheelchair, scooter access

Now anyone can take a stroll or a roll though Mount Work Regional Park in Highlands.

A 630-metre loop trail has been revamped and made accessible for people with mobility challenges, including those in wheelchairs.

Debris and large rocks were removed from the trail and portions of it were gritted to make it level. Capital Regional District Parks staff were careful not to damage trees or tree roots during the upgrade.

“In one case a little bit of tree root had to be taken out but there was no tree attached to it,” said Janette Loveys, manager of park operations for CRD Parks.

Once level, crews laid out a blend of gravel that allows wheelchairs to easily travel along the path. The material cost in the trail improvements was about $3,000.

The project was a partnership between CRD Parks, District of Highlands and Intermunicipal Advisory Committee on Disability Issues.

“We tried to (make the path accessible) without taking away from the natural aspects,” said Marnie Essery, chair of the Intermunicipal Advisory Committee on Disability Issues. “We want to take barriers away from people who are in wheelchairs.”

Prior to path’s reconstruction, Essery helped identify some key issues to improve accessibility.

Essery has lived with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis since the age of three. She was taken on the path on a trail rider, an all terrain wheelchair that is pushed and pulled by others.

“It was helpful to pinpoint the problems,” Essery said.

Essery, a Highlands resident, had tried the trail in a manual wheelchair. After being pushed over tree roots and a bumpy path, Essery found herself in the air a few times.

Then after a few short minutes she was forced to turn around and go back to the parking lot.

“It was too dangerous,” Essery said. “There is ‘off road’ and then there is ‘I am going to kill myself.’ Now the path is smooth and there are no more tree roots and no more rocks.”

Now that Essery is able to access the trail, she has taken it in a manual wheelchair being pushed by someone and on an electric scooter.

The trail meanders to a viewpoint of Fork Lake and then continues back to the parking lot.

“It’s still has some challenge to it,” said IACDI member Bobbi Neal. “It’s not easy-peasy, but it’s a nice strolling trail.”

CRD Parks also built an accessible one-person washroom for $20,000 at the trail head. All of the money came from the CRD Parks budget. The trail and washroom were officially open June 11.

“I think it’s a wonderful project and we really appreciated working with the District of Highlands and IACDI,”  Loveys said.

In 2009 IACDI met with West Shore communities and discussed areas where community members would like to see made accessible. Highlands residents voiced an interest in having an accessible trail.

“In Highlands it’s so rugged here,” Essery said explaining that several parks in the district were looked at as potential sites for the trail improvements, but eventually Mount Work was deemed the best option.

Although the park is in a remote location and not accessible by BC Transit, Essery said IACDI has hopes the park will become an accessible destination for group outings.

“I am a nature lover and I love to get out and explore,” Essery said.

Other popular accessible locations that have become destinations for people with mobility issues include an accessible fishing dock at Florence Lake in Langford and the art space at Esquimalt Lagoon in Colwood.

An accessible trail at Witty’s Lagoon in Metchosin is in the works, Essery said.

IACDI would like to form partnerships with other municipalities to help make other parks accessible for everyone. For more information email Essery at meteach@telus.net.

reporter@goldstreamgazette.com