Trail opens up nature to all

Pat Harris couldn't stop smiling as he wheeled through the forest on Tabor Mountain last Friday.

The aroma of pine wafted through the crisp, fall air as gold-coloured leaves scattered the 450-metre trail.

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"So far it's fantastic," said Harris, the resource manager for Spinal Cord Injury B.C. in Prince George. "The last time I saw this it was just roughed out. Clearly they had a vision. After wheeling around it now, it's more than I imagined."

The "it" Harris is referring to is the Great West Life Mobility Nature Trail unveiled Friday by the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society at Dougherty Creek at the end of Scott Road.

The trail was developed for seniors, wheelchairs and the public. It is set amongst Douglas and Fir stands along Dougherty Creek. Lined with packed, crushed gravel, the grade is less than five per cent with eight benches throughout. Rails and bridges have been built to ensure everyone's safety and protect the natural ecosystems.

"When a person has a disability his or her world shrinks, it gets smaller," Harris told the crowd gathered at the unveiling. "But one area we still have challenges with is Mother Nature. Getting out in that environment can be a problem and a challenge. That's why the work that's been done here is so impressive.

"There aren't a lot of opportunities for people with mobility issues to get out and enjoy nature. When TMRS had a meeting with us, talking about access and what it means, I started talking about universal design. It's a design that accommodates everyone. To have this access is very much appreciated.

"Thanks for bringing your mountain to the people."

Bob Bullock, the trail's project manager, said when the volunteer-run TMRS put its vision statement together, it wanted to encompass the whole community. But it realized one segment of the community was missing and that was those with mobility issues.

In 2012, the project was launched with the location at the end of Scott Road, not far from the Prince George Snowmobile Club and PG ATV Club trail head.

"We figured this would be a good location due to its proximity to town," said Bullock. "We cleared and developed the parking lot too to make it more accessible. We layed the sub-grade down this year. I'm extremely happy with how it turned out. It's very, very peaceful."

TMRS vice-president Randy Ellenchuk said the Dougherty Creek trail is a flagship project for the society. It's among 407 kilometres of multi-use trails that are used for sports such as cross-country skiing, horseback riding, mountain biking, snowmobiling, and ATVing. TMRS receives funding and donations in kind to improve, rehabilitate and maintain the existing network.

"Phase 3 will include gazebos next year so folks can rest and have lunch," said Ellenchuk. "We'll also rough-in a campground that will have universal access. Phase 4 will include picnic tables. In 2014, there were 2,000 hours of volunteer work and there are still a couple more months of work left."

Funding for the trail came from the federal and provincial governments, the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George, and various businesses.

Great West Life Mobility Nature Trail is 23 km south of Prince George. Take Highway 97 south to Buckhorn Road and turn left (east). Follow Buckhorn Road to Scott Road and turn north. Travel to the end of the road to where the gravel starts and take the first right to the main parking lot.

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