Alberta Parks introduces backcountry wheelchair

Bragg Creek: New plan to make parks more accessible

By: By Roxanne Blackwell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 09, 2014 03:23 pm

Tourism, parks, and recreation minister Richard Starke pushes volunteer Stephen Henry in the new Park Explorer backcountry wheelchair.
Tourism, parks, and recreation minister Richard Starke pushes volunteer Stephen Henry in the new Park Explorer backcountry wheelchair.
Roxanne Blackwell/OWW

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Packing up and heading to the mountains for the day is a commonplace practice for many Albertans, but it can be a challenge for people who may not be able to get out to enjoy into the province’s park areas.

Alberta Parks is hoping to reduce the obstacles that prevent many from being able to enjoy the great outdoors with a new inclusion plan unveiled on July 5, called ‘Everyone Belongs Outside.’ The plan is aimed at making nature more accessible.

In addition to multi-lingual information services for parks visitors, a new trail-friendly wheelchair called the ‘Park Explorer’ was unveiled this weekend. Tourism, parks and recreation Minister Richard Starke said the plan is to make nature more enjoyable for groups such as seniors, and those with disabilities or mobility issues.

“It may surprise you that according to our Hotel and Lodging Association, 14 per cent of travelers in Alberta have some form of a mobility challenge – that's one in seven, so that is a large part of our population,” Starke said.

“Perhaps 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, those folks might have stayed home, might not have gone outside… but in our society in Canada with head pioneers like Rick Hansen who have done so much to improve the accessibility, it has to be helped along with technology and ingenuity, and that's what we're talking about when we talk about the Park Explorer.”

The wheelchair has a three-wheeled design, with handlebars, brakes and suspension that allows the user to maneuver side to side without tipping over.

It was designed by Christian Bagg, who has been confined to a wheelchair for 20 years after breaking his back. He said it was his love of nature that inspired him to work on a design that would allow him to get back into Alberta’s backcountry.

Bagg said he’s happy to be a part of bridging the gap between the outdoors and those with disabilities.

“It's not so important mechanically how it works, what’s important is that it's proof of a commitment by Alberta Parks to innovate in the field of inclusion,” he said. “What's important is that everyone who wants to be out here will have the ability to have a piece of equipment or the information they need to access it.”

The Parks Explorer is still in the prototype stage and right now, the chair has to either be pushed or pulled. Bagg said he’ll continue to work with universities and SAIT to develop a hand drive system so people using it can be completely independent.

Right now there is only one Parks Explorer at the Elbow Valley Visitor Information Centre and there is no cost to use it.

Don Carruthers Den Hoed, inclusion team leader with Alberta Parks, said they’re hoping by the end of the year to have a finalized model that will be available at information centres throughout the parks in Alberta.

“We had to determine what inclusion was, what barriers people faced, and what opportunities were there to work with them?” said Carruthers Den Hoed. “What we would like to do is identify ability centers where people can go, whether it's a newcomer looking for information in their own language or whether it's a person with a disability looking to find a piece of equipment.”

Carruthers Den Hoed added that there are already many trails in Kananaskis that are wheelchair accessible for regular wheelchairs, and encourages people to contact Alberta Parks at pushtoopen@gov.ab.ca or visit www.albertaparks.ca/pushtoopen for more information on the inclusion programs.


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