Foothills Adaptive Challenge at Crimson Lake Provincial Park
Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation (TPR) believes Albertans of all abilities should be able to connect with nature in
parks. On Saturday, July 6, TPR and the Push To Open Nature Society hosted the second annual Foothills Adaptive Challenge
near Rocky Mountain House. This event provided people with disabilities or other mobility issues the opportunity to get
active outdoors with the use of adapted recreational equipment.
More than 50 participants gathered for a day of hiking at Crimson Lake Provincial Park and adaptive fishing and canoeing at Twin Lakes Provincial Parks. Children camping in the area joined these activities as well as pond dipping, a BBQ and an evening interpretive program.
"Last year's event was wildly successful, so we're excited that this will now be an annual event," said Graham Thursfield, Visitor Services Supervisor in the David Thompson Corridor with Alberta Parks.
Events like the Foothills Adaptive Challenge are part of Alberta Parks Inclusion Strategy. It works closely with the Push To Open Nature Society and local service providers to increase opportunities for people with disabilities to spend time in nature. "It's important for everyone to get into nature. It's so healing to the body, mind and soul," said Thursfield. "Someone might not spend time in nature because of physical disabilities or barriers to nature. And that's what we're trying to break down with these programs."
Michelle Sharkey, an avid nature lover, was quick to volunteer when she heard about the event. "It's important for everyone to access nature and get outdoors. We often take for granted the additional obstacles for people with disabilities, like if outhouses are wheelchair accessible."
The Push To Open Nature Society David Thompson Corridor Chapter recently purchased a new TrailRider through years of fundraising. "It's great to get the TrailRider out and get it dirty. We don't want it in storage. We want people using it," said Sherry Albrecht with the Push To Open Nature Society.
A TrailRider is a modified wheelchair for hiking trails, similar to a rickshaw. "There's someone pushing, someone pulling and no limits to where you can take it," said Thursfield. "Frontcountry... backcountry... today we did five kilometres through the Crimson Lake trails going up and down hills."
One of the participants, Emily, spent her afternoon canoeing and fishing. "The canoeing was my favorite part. I really enjoy being in nature. It's very peaceful." Another participant, Wes, spent his day using the adaptive fishing equipment. "I like getting out of the city... getting out and being with others. It would be nice to see more people out doing what they enjoy."
For sisters Chantal and Thomasina, it was their first time at an Adaptive Challenge event. They spent their day hiking the trails of Crimson Lake Provincial Park, riding in the TrailRider and pushing it. As participants, they both see a strong value in the event. "It's a good physical work out. You can really feel it in your arms going uphill," said Thomasina. "Parks should be open for everyone to access. Across Canada, there should be more trails that wheelchairs can access," said Chantal.
Saturday was Mark's first time canoeing in years. Two years ago, Mark had a stroke at 31. "I love the great outdoors. I was a big camper," said Mark. His favorite part of the day was the camaraderie on the lake with his fellow paddlers.
The annual event has grown into a weekly summer program at Crimson Lake Provincial Park. Every Thursday in July and August, experienced staff and volunteers host visitors and teach them to use adaptive recreation equipment. "Expect to be impressed by people and what they are capable of," said Thursfield. "People do activities they never thought possible."
The evening ended with an educational interpretive program around the campfire. "People who were strangers at the beginning of the day come together and are friends by the end of it," said Thursfield.
The Parkland Adaptive Challenge runs July 20 to 21 at Eagle Point Provincial Park and Blue Rapids Provincial Recreation Area near Drayton Valley. To register, visit www.pushtoopen.ca.