In Tofino, addition of ramp makes a beach for everyone

Word spread quickly about the District of Tofino’s new accessible ramp at Mackenzie Beach.

A crew of athletes with disabilities — including a Paralympian —pulled up just as the district was putting on the finishing touches.

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“We stumbled across it,” said Jeff Robertson, who organizes a surf camp for the California-based High Fives Foundation, which supports athletes with spinal cord and brain injuries.

“We got to the end of the road and we just saw this fantastic ramp that was brand new and freshly built. We went down it and there was perfect access to the beach. It was a complete surprise to us.”

Robertson said the group, which includes Canadian Paralympic skiier Josh Dueck, has returned to the beach several times this week to wave-ski. The sport involves a surf-like board with a kayak-like top, giving athletes back support.

The easy access point could mean the High Fives surf camp makes Tofino a regular destination. Robertson said it could also help open doors to adaptive water-sports competitions in Tofino.

Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne said the district started working on the project after a lack of accessibility was identified as a gap in the district’s 2013 age-friendly action plan.

“We’ve heard time and time again that it would be great to make the beach entrances more accessible for people with strollers or walkers or wheelchairs,” Osborne said.

Mackenzie Beach was chosen because of the relatively short distance between the parking lot and beach. If successful, the district could expand the project to other beaches.

The project cost $229,000, including the ramp, accessible washroom and change room, concrete sidewalk between the washroom and ramp, and large vehicle turnaround area. In the summer, it will also include a plastic rollout mat to make moving over dry sand easier.

It was funded through a provincial Resort Municipality Initiative grant for small, tourism-based communities.

Doug Nutting, executive director of Recreation Integration Victoria, said accessible beach access is not as common as it should be.

“One of the big challenges with a sandy beach is most wheelchairs will stick in the sand between the high tide [line] and the parking lot,” said Nutting, whose organization aims to assist people with disabilities pursue active lifestyles.

“So unless a person has an all-terrain chair or beach chair … the water is not accessible unless you have four strong friends.”

People with physical disabilities can still participate in activities such as kayaking, paddle boarding and snorkelling, he said.

In some cases, adapted equipment makes it possible. Recreation Integration Victoria has an adapted surfboard with handles, for example, as well as beach chairs with extra large inflated tires available for weekly loans.

Nutting applauded Saanich for making Cadboro-Gyro Park accessible. Its upgrade included a rollout plastic mat for the beach section beyond the park.

“That’s the only beach in the capital region that I’m aware of that has actually put in the matting,” he said. “I’m glad Saanich has led by example.”

The Vancouver parks board also has accessible equipment, including portable matting, available for rent.

In a Facebook post, Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday said the city is exploring creating barrier-free beach access as part of its 2017 budget.

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