District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft quickly learned about the challenges of limited mobility when he spent the afternoon touring Kinsmen Beach in a wheelchair.
Columbia Valley resident and former Invermere councillor Spring Hawes invited local dignitaries to spend the afternoon of Friday, August 28th taking turns in a rented wheelchair to help them understand the accessibility struggles for some by learning how difficult daily tasks can become in a wheelchair.
Its good to see firsthand what some of the concerns are its definitely useful to see it in person rather than trying to read a letter or a report, said Mr. Taft after his hour-long wheelchair experience. And it seems reasonable there are some small practical things that can be done on the ground to make accessibility more practical.
After trying to gain enough speed to get momentum to get up an unpaved hill at the walkway near the Pynelogs Cultural Centre and the CPR Lodge, Mr. Taft almost flipped the wheelchair, hitting his lower legs on the uneven surface. He admitted Ms. Hawes challenge was tough.
An able-bodied person probably doesnt think twice about a little hill or some gravel, but it definitely changed my perspective, said Mr. Taft. I think were really close, but there are these little improvements that we could make that would make a big difference.
Ms. Hawes believed some small adjustments to connect the pathways and fast-track the walking trails around Kinsmen Beach could dramatically improve life for people in wheelchairs, with canes or with walkers, and for mothers who are pushing prams.
I think this would benefit a lot of people, she said. There are a few things that could be done that would make a big difference and were hoping to point that out to council. We wanted to bring the spare wheelchair with us, just to give them a clear idea of what its like for users.
Invermere councilor Justin Atterbury took a roll up the hill in the same location and nearly fell onto the grass.
Its interesting, but there are a lot of really simple, little things that we could do to make a huge difference, said Mr. Atterbury about the tour. A lot of it was just an oversight, but now its been pointed out to us, so we can do something about it because a lot of them arent huge costs, but it would make (accessing Kinsmen Beach and the nearby walking trails) so much better.
The Invermere council members, including councilor Al Miller, took stock of the fact that the paved trails at Kinsmen Beach do not easily allow people with mobility issues access to the concession, the beach or the trail leading up to the CPR Lodge, and that there wasnt a safe route to get across the nearby gravel roads that avoids traffic in the parking lot.
Its quite a long way to go, said Ms. Hawes, gesturing at the pathway some people are forced to take when there are mobility issues. And its pretty hard to find a nice space to spend time alone if you want to go somewhere that isnt congested with traffic and be out in nature.
Mr. Taft and Mr. Atterbury anticipate the information presented during Ms. Hawes wheelchair accessible tour of Kinsmen Beach could set the tone for what improvements council can plan for during the September and October budget discussions.
It looks like a little bit of paving and some asphalt would improve access quite a bit, said Mr. Taft. It should all be finalized by December.
Ms. Hawes plans to work with council to help upgrade the Kinsmen Beach area.
Well compile a list of recommendations, and send them into council formally as a report or letter at some point, explained Ms. Hawes. People who do have trouble getting around have trouble getting from the parking area (at Kinsmen Beach) over to the beach or over to the Pynelogs area.