City of Campbell River Staff Liaison for the Access Awareness Committee Judy Ridgway (left) and committee members Ron Nicolaye (front) and Melanie Olsen (right) join the city’s parks supervisor Grant Parker in unveiling the new accessible beach access at the Ken Forde Boat Launch Monday.

Frank James beachfront more accessible

Beach at Frank James Park now accessible to those in wheelchairs

The City of Campbell River, in collaboration with various advocacy groups, has been working hard on making the inaccessible in our community more accessible.

Another project furthering that cause was unveiled this week, though it has already been in use by the public for almost a month.

The concept of implementing a wheelchair accessible beachfront path at Ken Forde Boat Launch – brought before council in 2014 by the Campbell River Access Awareness Committee – has come to fruition.

“Going to the beach is such a big part of the Campbell River lifestyle,” said Access Awareness Committee member Melanie Olsen at the unveiling on Monday, “and I’m really happy that my family can access the beach via these amazing mats that have been put in, and have a fire, and just have that opportunity to enjoy how beautiful it is down here.”

Olsen is relatively new to the committee, but is excited to be a part of improving the accessibility of Campbell River for people like Ron Nicolaye, who has been working on these issues for some time.

Nicolaye, who is wheelchair-bound himself and has been on the Access Awareness Committee for “about 19 years,” says he has definitely seen improvement in accessibility over his time with the group.

“Every year we see changes,” said Nicolaye, enjoying the view of the water from the new pathway. “Whether it’s curb-cuts, or parking spaces, or any number of other things, I’m constantly seeing changes for the better, and this is another one of those.

“We’ve really been working hard with the city to remove barriers within our community and they’ve been 100 per cent with us in terms of making changes for the better,” he said.

This project was modelled after a similar beach access point in Comox at Goose Spit, according to City of Campbell River staff liaison for the Access Awareness Committee Judy Ridgway.

The main difference between the Ken Forde access and the one in Comox, however, is that Campbell River’s doesn’t have to be removed each fall when the weather turns.

The rubberized mats are made of recycled tires, according to the city’s parks supervisor, Grant Parker, and are placed above high-tide so they can remain in place through the winter months, unlike the ones in Comox, which lead right down to the edge of the water, forcing their removal each fall to avoid damage.

“We also put it in an area where we had a whole bunch of invasive species,” Parker said at the unveiling. “We took (the invasive species) out and put a beach mats in, so it’s got that going for it, as well.”

The fire pit at the end of the pathway was an afterthought, Parker said, but adds yet another benefit.

“That wasn’t supposed to be part of the project, but we found a little concrete retainer and decided, ‘let’s put it there as a fire pit.’”

People were bound to put a fire there eventually anyway, Parker said, so why not make that easier for them, as well?

“Plus it’s easier to contain and it’s easier for the fire department if they need to attend,” Parker said.

Olsen said she hopes this project will spur more such initiatives in the future.

“There are lots of places in Campbell River that aren’t accessible enough to all people. It would be wonderful for people with disabilities, for people with families, to be able to enjoy more of this,” she said.

Nicolaye agrees.

“The beach is for everybody, and having these beach mats is greatly appreciated. Hopefully we’ll see more go in.”

At that, Parker said that while the original plan was to make the path go all the way down onto the beach itself – which would have created the very situation they deal with in Comox, having to take it out in the winter – they stopped the installation above high-tide instead, leaving them with leftover mats.

“So we are hoping to eventually install another one somewhere else, as well,” Parker said.

They are waiting for feedback from the community before deciding on a location for the second installation.

Feedback on the mats and thoughts on future locations for more projects like this can be sent to Ridgway at the Community Centre by calling 250-286-1161 or emailing judy.ridgway@campbellriver.ca