Adaptive trails in Nakusp and Fernie spread the joy of outdoor physical activity

At a twist in the trail, a group of young mountain bikers and a mother pause for breath. It’s been a hot ride and they’re ready for a dip in the lake.

They’re on the Lake Trail of the Mount Abriel recreation site, located about 10 kilometres north of Nakusp. Started in 2017, the eight-square-kilometre network will eventually encompass about 50 kilometres of trail.

This will include many “adaptive” trails, meaning they’re suitable for people with disabilities who ride three-wheeled adaptive mountain bikes. “But we kind of refer to them as ‘inclusive’ because you can hike on them, you can bike on them, you can chariot, you can have the kids on their strider bikes,” says Dawn Driscoll, Project Manager of the Nakusp and Area Bike Society (NABS), which is developing the network. “The vision was to have an outlet for recreation and physical activity for all—people with disabilities, families—and there was nothing really available from a biking perspective in the area.”

As adaptive athletes (and adrenalin junkies), we are always on the search for new places that make it easier to go play, recreate and sometimes have fun scaring ourselves like we used to as able-bodied athletes. I have spent many years being the shuttle driver, helping my able-bodied friends access and enjoy the mountain biking in the region. It means the world for me to be able to actively participate in the sport with them. – Kimberly Joines, resident of Rossland and Rosebery, retired Paralympic alpine skier and adaptive mountain bike rider

This was particularly true for people with disabilities. Often, they’re confined to pavement or not necessarily suitable rail trails. Adaptive trails like Mount Ariel’s remain nice and wide and smooth—but also notch up the fun with twists, turns, bumps and more.

“Accessible amenities help keep people at home in the Kootenays, instead of pushing people with disabilities to move to larger centres where they can expect these things. Accessible trails are just one part of that equation,” says Mike Riediger, Executive Director of the Kootenay Adaptive Sport Association (KASA). “Being a leader in accessible mountain biking trails has also helped bring people to Nakusp and the surrounding area, people who may have never thought of visiting because of barriers to outdoor recreation.”

The Mount Abriel trails were so much fun on the xc (cross-country) handcycle that I dream of the day I can get into a proper downhill bike and speed it up! – Tanelle Bolt, Invermere, Founder of RAD Recreation Adapted Society

To increase the number and quality of adaptive trails in the region, KASA partners with NABS and other trail groups. Many of these trails—from Valemount to Kimberley to Castlegar to Rosebery—have been built with support from the Trust, which aims to help people in the region live healthy lifestyles through recreation and physical activity. The Trust currently offers Trail Enhancement Grants, plus supports recreation infrastructure through programs like Basin Physical Literacy and Youth Sport (PLAYS).

The Trust has been supporting the Mount Abriel project since the network’s inception, including the construction of a boardwalk spanning a 180-foot gap on the Lake Trail and the construction of a pavilion and bike skills park. “The skills park is meant to be a non-consequential test area,” says Driscoll. “We’ll have everything from adaptive, green, blue, black to big dirt jumps. So, if you mess up, you’re just falling in the dirt.”

In the East Kootenay, the Fernie Trails Alliance Association is also adding inclusive trails. In 2018 it constructed an eight-kilometre loop on the Montane property. The first four kilometres are wide and gravelled, with minimum grades. The next four offer a few steeper spots that make it slightly more challenging but still accessible to a range of people, including adaptive riders.

“I’ve seen huge family use: young kids—four-year-olds—on bicycles, smiling because they can get up to the hut,” said Patrick Gilmar, Project Manager. “It’s an incredible destination. I’ve also seen more seniors hiking the trail.”

Projects like these have been providing employment in the region and increasing work skills. Plus, Mount Abriel has been important in establishing adaptive trail standards. Through trial, error and the advice of adaptive mountain bikers, the Mount Abriel crew is helping set standards for aspects like gradient and turning radius—for everywhere.

And while adaptive trails are excellent for adaptive mountain bikers, they also have much broader appeal—to people of all ages, shapes, abilities, outdoor interests and even income level, since these friendlier trails don’t require expensive, high-tech bikes.

“Once we started building the trails, we realized it wasn’t just about building trails for people on three-wheeled bikes,” says Janis Neufeld, KASA President, who was instrumental in founding Mount Abriel. “That’s just the beginning. Because really what these trails are doing is making mountain biking and the outdoors more accessible for everyone.”