When Bob Richards takes a walk along the Skaha Lake waterfront in Penticton, he thinks of his late wife who loved the nature and beauty of the Okanagan.
But he also can’t help but to remember all the times she struggled to navigate through the region’s trails because of being in a wheelchair.
That’s why at the age of 79, the Penticton resident is now on a mission to raise money in support of building wheelchair-accessible trails across the South Okanagan.
“There are people who are missing out on the beauty and nature of the Okanagan,” he said. “I know people who live elsewhere that say wheelchair access on their beaches is much more friendly than what we have here.”
Richards’ wife, Patricia, passed away on Dec. 13, 2015. Thinking about the couple’s love for exploring the region’s outdoor spaces never fails to make the Penticton resident smile.
But it wasn’t always so easy. Patricia attempted to go up Munson Mountain in her wheelchair, something she always dreamed of doing on her own. After making it three-quarters of the way up, safety concerns prevented the trip from going any further.
It was at that moment when Richards decided it was time to lead real change in his community for something he cared so deeply about.
“After Patricia passed in 2015, I knew I wanted to put my energy into this project but it just never came together at that time,” he explained. “I wanted to form a group, get registered and try to help implement safe wheelchair access on our trails.”
Now almost seven years later, the 79-year-old is back for another go-around. For the better part of 2022, he’s spent his days collecting cans around Penticton, in an effort of raising as much as money he can to kick start the project once again.
“Once I get 20 or 30 people signed for this new group up will call a meeting to work out an executive and work to get us registered,” Richards said.
First, the longtime Okanagan resident wants to promote the idea of improving the existing trail by Vaseaux Lake, combined with calling on the fisheries department to build wheelchair-accessible docks.
His plans, though, go much further than that.
Promoting wheelchair-friendly paths on Penticton’s waterfront and helping bring better accessibility to a 20-kilometre stretch on KVR Trail are among his objectives.
“I know this is going to take a lot,” he stated. “Getting grant money, making presentations to the city….this is no small task but I think we need to start exploring this.”
Now is the time to raise awareness on the safety issues Richards believes currently exist on the KVR Trail and other spots around the South Okanagan.
“There’s a lot of variations with it and you’d have to make sure the improvements are environmentally-friendly,” Richards said.
Though he isn’t quite sure how much it would cost, he says the least he can do is continue to push what he believes are long overdue accessibility changes outdoors.
“If something can happen, I’d be thrilled and Patricia would be thrilled, too.”
People interested in getting involved with the project are asked to email Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-492-6068.