Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder
Gabriola’s Land and Trails Trust (GaLTT) is encouraged to see the Regional District of Nanaimo’s proposed 2024 budget includes funding to study setting up an accessible beach access at Descanso Bay Regional Park, only a few months after they made a presentation advocating for it.
The RDN’s recommended regional parks budget, which all municipalities and electoral areas pay into, includes $65,000 for a feasibility study on an accessible beach access at the park and campground.
“It was the best we can hope for,” Sarah Kopjar, who chairs the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust’s accessibility committee, told the Sounder. In May, Kopjar led a presentation to the regional parks and trails select committee that proposed installing a retractable ramp plus Mobi-Mat during the summer in the South Cove day use area adjacent to the wheelchair accessible toilets and picnic area. The board of directors subsequently approved a motion from the committee that staff provide a report on the feasibility and cost estimates of developing an accessible beach access at the regional park.
Since then, GaLTT volunteers met with several RDN staff to survey the park. Challenges discussed included potential archaeological findings, the length of the ramp as well as logs and debris brought in from tidal action that could damage any infrastructure, a parks division update from October says.
If the RDN board supports the $65,000 budget, work would include hiring consultants to analyze the site, prepare a feasibility study and develop water access ramp options with cost estimates, RDN parks manager, Rick Daykin, said. A report would then go to the board with the consultant’s findings.
Of the over 100 beach accesses on Gabriola, none are accessible for those with mobility issues, according to a GaLTT evaluation and analysis.
“Even some places as simple as Brickyard, you look at it, and there’s a grade to get down” that presents a challenge for anyone in a wheelchair, Kopjar said.
The accessibility committee was formed in 2019 in response to a family expressing to GaLTT that their son, who uses a wheelchair, was unable to visit any beaches on the island with his spouse and kids. Kopjar said sites like Twin Beaches have been explored for a ramp, but steep slopes, archaeological considerations and erosion make the site problematic. Descanso Bay’s relative protection from logs and waves suggest it would be a better option as do parking and wheelchair accessible washrooms.
During the May presentation, GaLTT had said it was open to providing funds to purchase a ramp and Mobi-Mat if the RDN supported the siting of one at Descanso Bay. The committee has a few thousand dollars in donations it could use, but whether that will make sense to contribute in that way is “pending the outcome of a feasibility study,” Kopjar noted. GaLTT has also said volunteers are willing to prepare the beach area by moving logs annually before the ramp is set up for the season.
An accessible beach access at the popular park “would benefit the whole region,” Kopjar noted, and the cost of the feasibility study and any RDN-incurred costs should a ramp and mat be installed would be shared by all RDN members.
The RDN’s region-wide parks and trails strategy includes language that trails and amenities with the potential to have accessibility upgrades be considered in short- and long-range financial planning.
GaLTT’s accessibility committee continues to work on other access needs on Gabriola. Volunteers are working with BC Parks in a three-phase project at Drumbeg provincial park to reconfigure access to picnic tables and washrooms, both of which are wheelchair friendly, but the problem is getting to either of those amenities: trails from the parking lot are not level, Kopjar said. GaLTT volunteers will be involved in adding cart-path chip up to and around the picnic tables as well as evening out access to a south-facing bench and viewpoint.