Our accessibility work
GaLTT is working to improve accessibility in Gabriola’s public spaces. We believe that all of us should have the opportunity to enjoy our beaches and public trails. Often, quite small adjustments can improve access, but some projects are more ambitious and costly, requiring complex engineering and archeological studies and large investments in labour and equipment. Our volunteers work cooperatively with the RDN Parks Department and BC Parks to change what is possible.
How it started…
Following community complaints about the lack of access to Gabriola’s beaches for people with physical impairments, in 2017 we started to investigate the potential for barrier-free access at Descanso Bay Regional Park and at Gabriola Sands Provincial Park (Twin Beaches). Our new Accessibility Committee needed more information from technical experts as well as our local community, so, in 2018 GaLTT
- received from BC Parks a $5,000 Park Enhancement Fund grant to study the feasibility of barrier-free access at Twin Beaches. The study was conducted by Stan Leyenhorst of Universal Access Design.
- surveyed our community’s attitudes and opinions about improving access to our beaches, trails, and parks. We invited all Gabriolans to complete it, including people using wheelchairs and walkers, those with fear of falling, those walking with infants in strollers, and those with sensory impairments.
From the survey results, it was clear that Gabriolans value accessibility to natural spaces including for those with mobility restrictions whether due to pre existing conditions or aging. They identified impediments and priorities for action. We received thoughtful comments on the difficulty of balancing the wish to leave places in a natural state with making them more accessible. So we set to work with regional and provincial parks department staff!
What’s been done at Descanso Bay
RDN Parks Department quickly made improvements at Descanso Bay Regional Park, adding wheelchair-accessible parking, picnic tables, and outhouse in the day-use area close to the beach. The driftwood logs that regularly wash in to that beach during winter storms continue to make access difficult.
What’s been done in 707 Community Park
At GaLTT’s request, RDN staff removed the steep berm at the Jeanette Avenue entrance to the park, and GaLTT volunteers spread a firm gravel mix over the soil there, giving much easier access to the forest trails. Our wonderful volunteers have also built resting benches along the “there-and-back” trail to a beautiful maple. Our longer-term goal in 707 (when RDN budgets and park management plans allow it) is to build a wheelchair-accessible loop trail.
What’s been done at Twin Beaches
What people with disabilities told us in the survey was that they’d love to dip their toes in the water, so our long-term, complex, and costly goal is to get them from the parking lot, across the road, and over the grass that floods in winter, up the hill, and down the sandy bank to Taylor Bay’s flat beach. But, first things first! In June 2020, BC Parks gave us a grant to begin improving accessibility to the ocean-viewing area, trails, and facilities on the Pilot Bay side of the park, closest to the parking lot. The bank there is eroding and large, shifting logs make beach access very difficult but there’s a lovely ocean view.
At Pilot Bay
Our work (overseen by archeologist and Snuneymuxw First Nation) began in January 2021:
- providing accessible parking and removing concrete barriers
- widening and flattening the trails
- creating an accessible viewpoint
- re-topping the picnic table for wheelchair access
- making the outhouse wheelchair accessible.
The work was completed by GaLTT and Lions volunteers in April 2021 and enjoyed immediately by a local—the gravel still hadn’t been packed down!
With our island population skewing to an older median age, resting benches on trails are very welcome, and they improve accessibility for all.
GaLTT member and volunteer Jamie Doig has crafted several beautiful benches using wood donated by Tom and Charlotte Cameron. You can find the resting benches at a number of locations in RDN Parks.