Mobility challenges can make it difficult for many people to go for a hike or a day’s fishing. So when the Kamloops Thompson Trails Alliance in 2012 began looking for a signature project, a fully-accessible trail around Isobel Lake seemed like the ideal choice.

Isobel is a pretty little lake surrounded by forest about 20 minutes from Kamloops. Managed by Recreation Sites and Trails BC, there was some infrastructure and a trail around the lake, which reflected an earlier intention to provide access for people with mobility challenges. But it remained incomplete as it did not entirely meet the needs of people using wheelchairs or walkers. Nor was there sufficient access to the lake to support someone who wanted to go fishing, either from a dock or a boat.

“Isobel Lake is in a semi-wilderness setting. There aren’t a lot of opportunities like this for folks who have mobility challenges. They are few and far between,” explained Richard Doucette, president of the Kamloops Thompson Trails Alliance.

Upgrading the trail system meant obtaining funding, recruiting volunteer labour and soliciting donations of materials and equipment. The Alliance also realized it was making a long-term commitment to maintain the trail from spring through fall — even a fallen tree limb can curtail access for someone who can’t get around or over obstructions.

“All it takes is one step that’s not functional and you can’t go any further,” Doucette said. “We wanted to make the whole route accessible, all the way around the lake.”

“We worked with Recreation Sites and Trails to come up with a game plan. They commissioned a report — which was written by a local consultant who herself uses a wheelchair. She determined what was needed to upgrade the trail to current standards. We took that report and basically started working on it.”

The next step was to find enough funding, in-kind donations of materials and equipment, and work-party volunteers to see the project through to completion.

By coincidence, the Trans Mountain team was in the early stages of community engagement in the BC Interior region. Trails Alliance representatives introduced themselves, provided details about the project, discussions ensued and TMEP contributed $5,000.

“It was a long four or five years of fundraising and building, more fundraising, more building, to make the trail upgrades happen,” Doucette said. “Trans Mountain was one of the first to come on board and provide a solid chunk of funding to get us going. Sometimes one of the biggest challenges is getting your first grant so you have support and can demonstrate it’s a good, solid project. Trans Mountain saw the potential of our project and it was great to have that support early on.”

The final cost to complete the trail is more than $100,000. That includes $80,000 in direct sponsorship donations. “A lot of the materials were provided at cost from local hardware stores. We sourced some of the benches through a correctional centre – so those were built basically at cost. So we had a lot of good local support and in-kind contributions.”

“I would say you’re probably looking at about two dozen people over the years who were involved. We got small work parties for specific projects. Our vice-president Al Michel was up there a lot, so he put in most of the hours. Sometimes he’d be making 50 trips in a year.”

“It’s a three-kilometre loop,” Doucette noted. “This isn’t just for wheelchairs. The idea is to have benches at fixed distances along the trail so even if you have a health issue that bars you from walking too long at one time, you’ve got a bench available every so many metres where you can sit down, take a rest, recover your breath and then pick up and go again.”

“The dock is accessible for low mobility. We’re installing a swinging gate on the dock itself so someone can lower themselves down into a boat, from a wheelchair. Most people would find it challenging even to get into a boat. This allows someone to put a boat in the water and then have them wheelchair up to the dock and get in.”

In June 2018, the improved trail had its grand opening and ribbon-cutting as the Isobel Lake Mobility Trail.

“We’ve had lots of great feedback,” Doucette said. “People seemed quite excited that we’re continuing to maintain it. I spoke with one gentleman who had stopped going up there with his son who was wheelchair-bound because of obstacles. He’s quite happy to learn maintenance will be ongoing so he can take his son out into a wilderness setting.”