The dream of turning Baxter Conservation Area into an accessible nature haven for people of all abilities is finally coming true.
After three years of planning and fundraising, work has begun to replace the park’s defunct marshland bridge with a new state-of-the-art span that embraces the gold standards of accessible design. This includes an extra-wide deck, appropriate sight-lines for people in wheelchairs and strollers, and a large education platform to help students of all abilities get up close and personal with the natural world.
“The outdoors should be accessible to anyone who wants to enjoy it: plain and simple,” said Dan Cooper, co-chair of the Nature For All committee and Director of Conservation Lands at the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA).
“We’ve done the work to ensure this bridge serves visitors of all ages and abilities.”
The bridge construction was made possible thanks to tireless fundraising efforts by RVCA’s charitable partner the Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation, which garnered more than $800,000 in support from individual donors, community organizations, government grants and corporate sponsorships.
“We are thrilled and humbled by the community support for this project,” said Foundation director Diane Downey. “It really shows how much our visitors and partners value inclusivity at our parks.”
Construction will continue throughout the winter and will not result in any new trail closures.
Being in nature is good for body and soul, but people with disabilities are disproportionately excluded from outdoor spaces because they’re inaccessible, unsafe or both.
The people behind Baxter Conservation Area are trying to change this. The conservation area is slowly but surely becoming Eastern Ontario’s most accessible wilderness haven, with gold-standard accessibility features added each year throughout the park.
Baxter has already invested in accessible equipment such as wheelchair-friendly picnic tables, a beach mat down to the water and wheelchair-accessible sleds for the winter months.
Outhouses and change huts have been made more accessible, and this winter, new accessible washrooms will be installed at the interpretive centre thanks to the federal Enabling Accessibility Fund.
The Nature For All committee also plans to upgrade the park’s five kilometres of trails to include wider, more comfortable boardwalks and more wheelchair-friendly graded stone-dust paths.
These upgrades will allow us to welcome people of all ages and abilities safely and comfortably to our park. These groups include (but are not limited to):
- People with physical or intellectual disabilities;
- Seniors with mobility concerns;
- Students and special education classes;
- Groups from local day programs, assisted living facilities and long-term care homes.
“Nature and wilderness should be for everybody. That’s where you begin to find yourself,” said Mike Nemesvary, founder of Nature For All and long-time accessibility advocate.
He has been visiting Baxter in his power wheelchair for 20 years, after a training accident in his 20s left him paralyzed on his path to becoming a world champion freestyle skier.
“Baxter Conservation (will be) a model of accessibility for other conservation areas. People from all across Canada can come here and see how much effort and time was put into the planning, and that the planning has really paid off.”
To learn more or donate to the Nature For All project, visit www.rvcf.ca/ways-to-give/nature-for-all-project.