New Brunswick

A ramp down to nature: Woman in wheelchair experiences Hopewell Rocks in new way

On an earlier trip to the Hopewell Rocks, Murielle Pitre's sisters went down the stairs to the beach and walked on the ocean floor. Pitre, who uses a wheelchair, sat on the lookout up above and watched.

A new ramp allows Murielle Pitre of Riverview to get closer to the water at the Hopewell Rocks

Murielle Pitre takes her first trip on a new ramp on the North Beach of the Hopewell Rocks. She says it has allowed her to experience the tourist attraction in a way she's never been able to do before. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

On an earlier trip to the Hopewell Rocks, Murielle Pitre's sisters went down the stairs to the beach and walked on the ocean floor.

Pitre, who uses a wheelchair, sat on the lookout up above and watched.

Independence is everything to Pitre, and today she's ready to try the Rocks again.

"It's something you're used to when you're in a wheelchair, you know, that sometimes you'll be able to do part of it and not do the full experience," she said.

"It's not something that bothers me. I do get to do a lot of things, but the more you can do the more you can participate in, the better it is."

An example of some of the stairs people have to navigate at the Hopewell Rocks to get down to the beach. (Pierre Fournier/CBC News)

Pitre has spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair since she was in her teens. But she hasn't let that hold her back.

"I find I do most of everything that other people do," she said. "I just do it differently and sometimes a bit slower and sometimes faster, as you've seen me move with the chair."

On this latest trip to the Hopewell Rocks, she got a look at the Bay of Fundy attraction that was quite different from the time she visited with her sisters.

The site built a 60-metre ramp this year to the North Beach, allowing her to get closer to the water.

You can come here with your friends and be part of it. - Murielle Pitrie

Pitre got on her motorized wheelchair and rode smoothly to the bottom.

There, she sat and gazed out at the water.

"It's beautiful, it's peaceful," she said. "I loved it. I even put my cellphone away for two seconds, until I started taking pictures. But it's beautiful.

"It's closer to nature than you could get without something like this."

The new ramp to the North Beach allows people who can't navigate the stairs to get closer to the water. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

It's the kind of reaction Paul Gaudet was hoping for.

He's the interpretive services and reception manager at the Hopewell Rocks.

Gaudet said the stairs that used to be there needed to be replaced, and the idea of a ramp emerged.

Muriel Pitre is now able to go right to water at Fundy Park. 0:38

"Some of the older demographic that comes here on tour buses and whatnot and possibly for anybody who has trouble getting up stairs could avail themselves of a ramp," he said. "And it would be a lot better for everybody concerned."

Last year was one of the busiest the park has experienced, he said. Between the end of May and the first of October, 305,000 came to see the Rocks.

"We're allowed to put the money we make back into infrastructure to improve the park, and this year we're putting in a new playground, put in a new entrance, we put in this ramp here, and we brought in new portable washrooms," Gaudet says.

Paul Gaudet, the interpretive services and reception manager at the Hopewell Rocks, says the ramp is one of the best additions in a long time. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

The ramp cost $856,000.

Gaudet said there are also plans to increase the size of the concrete platform at the base of the ramp.

The rough, uneven surface of the beach makes it unsuitable for most wheelchairs, he said.

But having the ramp makes the experience of visiting the Hopewell Rocks much richer for people like Murielle Pitre.

"We want to be as inclusive as we can possibly be, and I think this ramp is one of the best additions that we've made here in a long time," Gaudet said.

"We needed the stairs because of sheer numbers of people, but the ramp, too, in my opinion is one of the best improvements we've made in the park in a number of years."

Pitre looks over the water on the North Beach at the Hopewell Rocks. (Pierre Fournier/CBC News )

Pitre agreed.

Now that she's tried the ramp, she said she'll recommend it to friends, especially those with mobility issues.

"It's the feeling that it gives you to be able to participate to the fullest extent possible, in something that otherwise sometimes you can feel left out. But you can come here with your friends and be part of it."