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Full inclusion: Edmonton makes headway in improving accessibility to the river valley

Latest plan in the Whitemud Creek Ravine would see stairs removed

Zach Weeks would like to see more river valley access for people with limited mobility.

Kevin Tuong / For Metro

Zach Weeks would like to see more river valley access for people with limited mobility.

Zachary Weeks only goes to the river valley about once a year—most of the time, the stairs and uneven pathways are just too much.

“If things were more accessible, I could see myself go every couple of months,” said Weeks, who uses a wheelchair to get around.

Residents have long considered the river valley one of the best things about the city. But despite what Weeks describes as “tremendous” recent improvements, much of it remains out of reach for Edmontonians with mobility challenges.

But this year will see a number of new projects aimed at making more green space accessible to all.

The latest upgrade in the river valley is in the Whitemud Creek Ravine, where crews plan to replace an aging boardwalk, that’s been significantly damaged by Edmonton’s freeze and thaw cycles.

Martina Gardiner, the director of open space infrastructure delivery at the city, said the replacement is essential because the boardwalk lets residents venture through an area that’s usually too muddy and wet.

“The river valley trail system is quite significant,” she said. “It’s a high-use area so we want to ensure it’s well-used by Edmontonians.”

Crews also plan to remove the current stairs at the boardwalk, and instead build a long ramp.

“It’ll make the area more accessible for people with mobility challenges,” Gardiner said. “Removing the stairs improves that.”

Weeks said he’s glad the city wants to remove the stairs, as they’re one of the most common obstacles in the river valley system.

“Unfortunately, as it is right now, there’s sets of stairs that don’t really cater to those with limited mobility,” he said. “The river valley has always been a highlight of the city. It’s a beautiful scene to just watch the water and enjoy nature.”

The Whitemud project isn’t the only one that addresses accessibility.

There are currently “barrier-free” pathway improvements underway for Louise McKinney and Buena Vista parks.

As well, the city’s downtown funicular project will let residents take a tram-like vehicle to a lookout point that provides views to the river valley. From there, people can take an elevator down to where the trail meets the river.

“It’s great to see people are starting to understand what full inclusion involves,” Weeks said.

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