New wheelchair-accessible trail means 'freedom' for Yukon man

A new wheelchair-accessible trail in Whitehorse is making it easier for anyone to access a spectacular view of the Yukon River.

Trail is built wide and flat to allow easier navigation, leading to a spectacular view

Darryl Tait says the new trail in Whitehorse offers a smooth ride with manageable inclines. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Darryl Tait says a new trail in Whitehorse — which allows anyone to access a spectacular view of the Yukon River — means a lot to him.

"To me, it speaks of freedom," says Tait, who uses a wheelchair and knows how tough it can be to access the outdoors.

The trail is built flat and wide to be wheelchair-accessible. The gravel has also been stamped, making it easier to navigate for people on crutches, using a walker, pushing a baby stroller or even young children learning to walk.

Tait has been working on the trail project as a consultant and driving heavy machinery

With this, I am fully independent, and I can come out here anytime I want.- Darryl Tait

​Tait said in the past, he's tried other options like a fat-tire wheelchair and an adapted mountain bike on other trails. Even though he's a noted athlete, the options often left him struggling.

"Lots of times, I do require help from friends who will help pull me over obstacles or help to carry me over some things. But with this, I am fully independent and I can come out here anytime I want," he said.

The new trail runs just over one kilometre out from Wolf Creek campground. 

"It comes out to this an amazing viewpoint. You get to absorb what Yukon is all about. And as you can see, I am sitting here in a wheelchair, I am not sweating, I made it out here no problem, due to this beautiful new trail," he said.  

'To me it speaks of freedom,' said Darryl Tait, right, who is working as an accessibility consultant on the new trail. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Signs will tell Indigenous history 

Improvements to the trail at Wolf Creek campground started last fall and the landscaping was recently completed. 

The project was built by local workers including Indigenous youth who have been trained through a project called Singletrack to Success which helped plan and organize the construction of mountain bike trails in Carcross.   

The next step will be installing signs which tell the story of the region and its traditional use by Indigenous people as part of a partnership with the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta'an Kwäch'än Council.

As of now, the accessible trail doesn't have an official name. The First Nations will also discuss a name for the new section.

As of now, the wheelchair-accessible part of the trail doesn't have an official name other than being part of the existing Wolf Creek Trail. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Another accessible trail coming to Haines Junction

Yukon parks planner Sara Nielsen says the idea is to share the campgrounds with as many people as possible. 

"It is about allowing more people to access our wonderful parks and feel that connection," she said.

My passion is connecting people with the land, the culture and the people and the stories of the place. But how are we going to do that if people can't get there?- Sara Nielsen, Parks planner

Yukon already has a wheelchair-accessible trail at Tombstone territorial park. It's also been building wheelchair access into new campgrounds.

Another wheelchair-accessible trail is being built at Pine Lake campground near Haines Junction using a boardwalk to create a flat path over wetlands.

The Champagne and Aishihik First Nation will help write signs that describe the region as used by Indigenous people.

The accessible-trail projects have been partly funded by a $50,000 grant through the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency as well as funding from the territorial government through Environment Yukon.

The budget for both the Pine Lake and Wolf Creek trails is roughly $130,000 combined, though this amount doesn't account for some associated costs such as Yukon government employees' hours and use of the territorial government's heavy equipment.

"We need to do better at providing accessible facilities. My passion is connecting people with the land, the culture and the people and the stories of the place. But how are we going to do that if people can't get there?" she said.