B.C. residents can expect parks near urban centres to be more welcoming to a broader range of users in the coming years.
On Wednesday, the province announced $3.6 million in new funding will go to making parks near urban centres more inclusive and accessible. The funding is part of the B.C. government’s 2023 budget, and will be dispersed over the next three years to upgrade facilities including washrooms, parking lots and trails, to an accessible standard.
British Columbians love the beauty of the province’s natural spaces, but there continue to be too many people who face barriers to being included and safe in parks, said Environment Minister George Heyman, who was at Old Buck Trail Head in North Vancouver to make the announcement.
“Our government is dedicated to ensuring that everyone in B.C. can both access and feel comfortable in our parks, and we will continue our work to break down the barriers that discourage or prevent many of our neighbours from accessing the natural beauty of our province,” he said.
Old Buck is part of the Seymour Adaptive MTB Loop, a 1.8-kilometre trail loop that’s been widened and built-out to accommodate adaptive bikes. Another part of that loop, a trail known as Empress Bypass, is due for a refresh, said Deanne Cote, executive director of the North Shore Mountain Bike Association.
“So this is perfect timing,” she said of the new funding, adding that her organization wants to bring a machine operator to help reshape some of the berms and other trail features.
“Pat, who's one of our builders, has several ideas of where we can expand the adaptive bike loop here on Seymour,” Cote said. “We'll sit down … and come up with a plan, and then hopefully we can expand to a new trail.”
As a volunteer organization, Cote said NSMBA’s biggest hurdle is securing funding, especially because so many trails cross jurisdictional boundaries. For example, part of Empress Bypass is on BC Parks land and another part is in the District of North Vancouver. Being able to get funding at the provincial level removes that complication.
Also at Wednesday’s announcement was North Vancouver – Seymour MLA Susie Chant, who’s also the parliamentary secretary for accessibility.
“In B.C. alone, there's over 926,000 people living with some type of disability,” she said. “Disabilities can be permanent, temporary or episodic, visible or invisible, acquired or congenital, and can affect our bodies, minds, senses and abilities to communicate.”
“We have new technologies and ways of thinking about design and infrastructure. All of this supports our journey towards accessibility and inclusion, and positions us as leaders in Canada, helping to attract talent, investment, and visitors to British Columbia,” she added.
The presentation concluded with a demonstration of an adaptive bike. Heyman volunteered to ride it, and was led around the Seymour loop the as the spring sunshine speckled through the trees.
In 2015, BC Parks established an accessibility advisory committee with member organizations including Disability Alliance BC, the B.C. Aboriginal Network on Disability Society and Power To Be.
According to the province, accessibility audits were completed for all 330 front-country parks from 2018 through 2019. Around 20,000 British Columbians with mobility-related disabilities were surveyed to identify barriers to accessing provincial parks.
In 2021, BC Parks installed 500 new welcome signs at entrance points like parking lots, kiosks, campgrounds and trailheads. Gender-neutral washroom signs have been installed on most pit toilets.