Yukon Parks is tripling the number of accessible trails in the territory with two trail projects nearing completion at Pine Lake and Wolf Creek campgrounds.
Sara Nielsen, an interpretive planner with Yukon Parks, said the idea sprung from a previous project in Tombstone Territorial Park building a wheelchair-accessible trail.
“The trends have been going that way,” said Nielsen. “We have a ton of facilities in our system. We have … 54 roadside sites which all have facilities — like outhouses, campsites and garbage — and very little of that was accessible to people in wheelchairs.”
“I think in 2010 about half our sites had wheelchair-accessible outhouses, and so we were already thinking we needed to try to expand that. So when the funding opportunity came up for Tombstone, why not make it wheelchair accessible?”
Nielsen said that thought process continued, and Pine Lake and Wolf Creek quickly emerged as good candidates for similar trails.
When a funding opportunity came up through the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CANNOR), proposals for the two trails were approved.
Singletrack to Success, an initiative started in 2006 to engage First Nations youth in trail building, was awarded the contract to build the Wolf Creek trail following a bidding process.
Project manager Derek CCrowe said this is the first time Singletrack to Success has been a contractor for trail building.
“It was originally started just to build trails for tourism and community well-being, and it really became this mentorship program and the neat thing that happened over time is it’s not just the adults that were involved were mentors, but the youth that grew up became the mentors for the younger youth,” said Crowe.
Two of those people, Shane Wally and Dominic Smith-Johns, did the bulk of the work on the Wolf Creek trail. Wally and Smith-Johns have 10 and five years experience respectively building trails.
“Those guys just did a bang up job,” said Crowe. “I think the coolest thing is they were working right alongside the Yukon Parks employees — and there are some amazing staff with Yukon Parks — and they really recognized how hard these Carcross guys work.”
While Singletrack to Success has been building trails for 12 years, Crowe said this was their first accessible trail.
“(It’s a) huge learning curve. It’s amazing because the specs for wheelchair trails are really stringent. You basically have to take a 22-mm tire inflated very hard and you can’t make a dent. So doing that with material that is not asphalt is a really big test,” said Crowe.
After consulting with the people who actually produce the materials, they settled on an economical option similar to what is used to build airport runways but for a fraction of the cost.
Building the 1.2-km trail took 300 cubic metres of material, and the bulk of the work was done last fall with touch ups on the trail done this spring.
“We were really excited to see how hard the trail had gotten,” said Crowe. “It was just the right kind of material.
Crowe said the first thing Singletrack to Success did on the trail project was bring on Darryl Tait was an accessibility consultant.
“The first thing we did was go out here with Darryl and have him tell me what’s up,” said Crowe.
Although Crowe didn’t know, Tait had recently been in Vancouver working with the Rick Hansen Foundation as part of its developmental process for building assessors in Canada.
“Once (Crowe) heard that, he was like, ‘Wow,’” said Tait. “So we got out on the trail.”
Tait said his first trip down the trail was a challenge.
“I’m quite agile in my chair,” said Tait. “I like challenges, so I was all up for it, but to try to make this inclusive to everyone … sounded like a lot of work.”
Crowe said the trail was far from the smooth, flat surface it is today.
“The first time we did this trail, it was an extreme event watching Darryl wrestle this typical Yukon forest trail,” said Crowe. “Lots of roots, lots of braided trail where people find a new route around roots, and in a wheelchair he was pulling out all the tricks.”
Tait said when we came back this summer to see the trail, it was incredible.
“It’s a totally different trail and they barely touched anything,” said Tait. “You can’t see that it has harmed the environment at all. It looks like it’s been there forever.”
Tait also got hands on with the project, operating a Kubota tractor for some of the finishing touches thanks to a custom-built adaption.
“You look at this control and it looks like a factory unit,” said Crowe. “The fact is that it was built in just a few hours by the guys at Totaltrac.”
While Tait has operated heavy machinery in the past, he said it’s the first time he’s done so in a decade.
“It’s all in your fingertips and wrist,” said Tait. “I can actually use them both (the bucket and the hand control) at the same time.”
Tait explained that there are a number of different considerations that have to go into planning for different accessibility concerns.
“For myself as a chair user, it’s the material,” said Tait. “You don’t want anything soft that’s hard to push through. You want something that’s going to glide easily.”
People with visual impairments need consistency on a trail, Tait explained.
“There is a consistent grade all the way along. They know they’re not going to run into any obstacles,” said Tait. “We do have some bumper guards on some of the steeper slopes that give awareness to say, ‘Hey, there is a steep embankment here.’”
It was also crucial to try to minimize grades to allow an aging population to also use the trail.
“With our aging population, … it’s just a matter of having the right grades so that someone isn’t huffing and puffing trying to get up a slope,” said Tait.
Speaking about where else he’d like to see an accessible trail, Tait singled out Miles Canyon.
“It’s a serious tourist hub for us in Whitehorse and it does not have an accessible viewpoint,” said Tait. “That’s a huge staircase — a lot of steps — so someone elderly, that’s a lot of work to get up those and it would be quite easy to make a trail just to overlook the river.”
Tait said he’s keen to continue consulting on similar projects.
“I would love to see this happen more and more and I’d like to be a part of it and see growth and make the Yukon a tourist destination for everyone.”
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at email@example.com