Sask. Paralympian helps expand Trans Canada trail map for people with disabilities

A Saskatchewan Paralympian said she jumped at the chance to help map trails in the province so people with disabilities can use accessibility notes to help plan excursions.

More than 35 trails have been mapped for accessibility Canada-wide

Lisa Franks, a prolific Saskatchewan Paralympian, as she maps out the Douglas Provincial Park trail northwest of Moose Jaw as part of the Accessibility Mapping Program. (AccessNow/Trans Canada Trail)

A program meant to provide accessible nature trails to people with disabilities has expanded its roadmap with help from a Saskatchewan Paralympic champion.

The Trans Canada Trail introduced its Accessibility Mapping Program in 2021 alongside AccessNow, an app which shares accessibility information about parks, trails and buildings. Trail users and mappers send in information about the trails and people can gauge how accessible they are for their own use.

Moose Jaw's Lisa Franks, an accomplished Paralympic wheelchair basketball player and wheelchair racer, mapped the Saskatchewan additions of the 2022 expansion.

She said she loved the outdoors as a child but when she started using a wheelchair at 14 years old, she didn't know how to keep doing outdoor activities accessibly. 

For many that urge to be outside was exacerbated by the pandemic, "but a lot of people didn't know where we could go if we had a mobility device," Franks said on CBC's Saskatchewan Weekend.

Trisha Kaplan, national manager of programs and inclusion initiatives for Trans Canada Trail, said that the organization's national polling found a vast majority of Canadians used trails to enhance mental and physical health. 

Most planned to continue using trails after the pandemic.

Information about the trails is uploaded with each new mapper and rider, who can identify tables or benches that aren't accessible to some people. 

Other notes provide points of the trail which deter some mobility devices.

LISTEN | Champion Sask. Paralympian and Trans Canada Trail inclusion manager on mapping accessible trails:

Kaplan described one situation where a barrier at the access point meant to block motorized vehicles from entering the trail inadvertently stopped a mapper's wheelchair, which "couldn't fit through the access point."

Those are reported and, in this case, was fixed. 

Regina's Wascana Valley Trails were a part of the initial launch of the app last year, as mapped by wheelchair racer Jessica Frotten. For the trail mapping expansion in 2022, Franks mapped trails in Danielson Provincial Park, Douglas Provincial Park and Meewasin near Saskatoon.

More than 35 trails have already been mapped across Canada. Another round of trail mapping is set to begin in spring 2022 with more trail sections to be mapped by fall 2022.

Franks said that she was pitching a separate idea about an adaptable mountain biking club to Sask Parks when she heard about the accessible trails project. She was keen to be involved. 

Lisa Franks maps Danielson Provincial Park, northwest of Moose Jaw, as part of the Accessibility program. (AccessNow / Trans Canada Trails)

She met a guide and wheeled through the trail on an adaptable mountain bike, taking notes of accessible parking, water fountains, hills and anything she thought useful.

"I'd even try to consider how it might work for other people in different mobility equipment," Franks said.

Franks typically rode the trials on sunny days, noting with a laugh that the staple Saskatchewan winds can be difficult to navigate and "pushing a wheelchair in the rain … usually isn't ideal."

But her most interesting obstacles were horses. 

"They were licking my head," she laughed. "They were a little interested in the mobility device — I was on an adapted mountain bike at the time — they're more familiar with it now."

Lisa Franks pets horses while travelling the Meewasin Trail in Saskatoon, Sask., as she maps the location. (AccessNow / Trans Canada Trail)

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend