Between Ambleside and Nineteenth avenues, south of Highway 16 in Smithers, lies Willowvale Marsh. Originally a “tailing” (drainage) pond for an old mill, the years spent laying fallow have resulted in nature reclaiming the surrounding area as a vibrant wetland ecosystem.It is a popular place for birdwatchers, hikers, and other visitors.
“It’s a regular site for the Bulkely Valley Naturalists to do bird-identification walks. They’ve put in bat houses. They’ve reforested with a whole pine tree planting,” says Glenys SnowDymond, representative of Access Smithers.
“My husband works for High Road Services Society,” an organization that provides assistance to the disabled. “A lot of the caregivers take their individuals down there to walk around. It’s high-use, a lot of people are jogging through that area.”
However, traversing the terrain can be difficult for some visitors. It is for this reason that Access Smithers is now focusing their efforts on Willowvale Marsh and some of the surrounding area. Working alongside the Town of Smithers and with local sponsors, Access Smithers Phase one plan for the location is to add handicapped-accessible features to the location while preserving the habitat of the local wildlife.
“Phase one has been endorsed through that partnership agreement with the Town, that we would have the accessible benches, picnic area, accessible parking spot,and upgrades to the trail,” said SnowDymond. “Our goal is to complete this phase of the project this year hopefully, with acknowledgements, during Access Awareness Week in June.”
“We made sure it was wheelchair accessible,” said fellow member Lorraine Doiron.” There are benches there that people can sit on without having to walk the whole entire place to come around to it. It’s kind of a circle, right. And a little land bridge built to join the whole thing.”
Access Smithers is not a committee of Smithers Town council. It is instead an advocacy group born of one of the committees across B.C. that came into existence as a result of the Olympics 2010 Legacies Now Initiative for inclusion.
“All municipalities and Regional Districts were asked to pass resolutions to become accessible and inclusive communities,” said SnowDymond. “All of the northern region of B.C. endorsed this campaign — from 100 Mile House in the south, to the northern, eastern, and western boundaries, including Haida Gwaii.”
Now Access Smithers works with others to help the Province of British Columbia achieve the “2024 Access and Inclusion” goal: a 10-year plan to install the necessary physical and social infrastructure to make B.C. more accessible to all its citizens.
“Communities and all levels of government at large are encouraged to consider what we can all do, in whatever manner, to make things more accessible and inclusive. Our country of Canada is involved in the United Nations initiative for access and inclusion. It’s an international goal. Every little project, like Willowvale Marsh, are all building into this understanding that people with impairments and disabling conditions have equal right of access and opportunity.”
As of this writing, Access Smithers is still raising funds for the project and is offering tax-deductible receipts through the Town of Smithers. Members have expressed great gratitude for the people assisting them in this endeavour.
“Through the process we have established an excellent working relationship with Mr. Dobinson at Amberside Park who assists with some labour, materials and equipment. It’s helping to dissolve barriers between people and groups as we unify and work together on the berm, habitat preservation, signs, and completion of the upgrades to the trail and around the outdoor furniture,” said SnowDymond. “Bandstra Trucking generously donated the transport of the accessible benches and picnic table from the coast to here. Laurelin Svindahl, our professional landscape architect advisor, and many others have donated countless hours in discussion and strategies; funding has come from many areas to get the project to its current stage.”
“Our hope is that at the finish of this phase we can offer an exemplary area to stimulate other communities to look at and develop sites for access that provide health and ‘Vitamin N’ — nature — for all to appreciate,” said SnowDymond.
Willowvale marsh sponsors/donors – Access Smithers support (Feb., 2019)
Northern Health – Imagine Grant
Bulkley-Nechako regional district
Wetzinkwa Community Forest Corporation
Bulkley Valley Credit Union
West Fraser Concrete
Smithers Rotary Club
Echardts’ Fish Guiding
Lauerelin Svindahl – Landscape Architect
Bulkley Valley Social Planning Comittee
Town of Smithers
Perry – “Love” Family
Bulkley Valley Naturalists
PIR – West Fraser Mill
Ambleside Park – Jim Dobinson
L.E.A.F. (Landscapes, Environments, Access Freedom)