Now the entire family can easily enjoy riding the train and the other sights at the BC Forest Discovery Centre as wheelchair/handicapped access is improved at the popular tourist destination.
Staff and volunteers from the Centre celebrated last Thursday and Friday with a pair of well-attended Accessibility Days.
“People have really appreciated it and it’s gone over so well today,” said a happy Chris Gale, manager of the BC Forest Discovery Centre, at the end of the first day of celebration.
A lot of people who want to visit the Forest Discovery Centre are of an age where they or their partners may be dealing with mobility issues and Gale agreed that has been a driver behind the push to increase accessibility at the site.
“When we first talked about the idea we weren’t sure how it was going to go over. But once we started contacting the care homes and seniors homes they all got excited. And what a response to this: over 180 people today and probably another 120 tomorrow,” he said.
It’s so easy for a casual observer to see, when a busload comes in from a care home, how much they love coming to the Forest Centre and, especially, riding the train.
“They can get fresh air, see history and they don’t need to leave town to get to something like this,” Gale said.
“They can come to ride their own train in their own town,” Gale said, adding that the grateful response to the new accessibility was touching.
“I almost had a tear in my eye a couple of times today,” he said.
Previously, staff and volunteers were needed to lift and guide people in wheelchairs actually up and onto the train by use a sturdy but steeply sloping metal ramp.
Gale remembered his first sight of it.
“It was my first day here on the job, 16 months ago, and I said then: ‘We’ve got to fix that’ and everybody agreed so we got to work on it. And now we have this, and, when we get the washrooms done and everything else finished, it will be so much better.”
Some of the boardwalks have already been improved, the parking lot has been totally reworked and the whole front of the building will be changed.
“We wanted to have that done this week but we couldn’t quite manage it. That’s all going to be torn off and nice sliding doors installed so it will be completely open. The washrooms will be done before next season,” he said.
A particularly special aspect of the new hydraulic lift on the train is how quickly it works, according to Gale.
“We loaded up 17 wheelchairs in 15 minutes today. Admittedly, that’s not going to happen very often but it shows that it’s not a slow lift,” he said, adding that sometimes, previously, visitors in wheelchairs might have been concerned that they were holding people up because everyone had to wait while the ramp was put up, before a wheelchair could be pushed onto the train car.
Now, parents and grandparents in wheelchairs can easily come with their families to such popular annual events as the Halloween Train and the Christmas Express.
“Yes, we’re very, very happy,” Gale said.
The celebration last week also featured special admission prices for anyone with mobility issues and day-long breakfast buffets, organized by the tireless Bill Dumont. “He’s been in charge of all the food and what a job he’s done. Fantastic,” Gale said.
The BC Forest Discovery Centre is now closed until Oct. 23 when it opens for the Halloween Train.