A park for people
I’ve been thinking a lot about equity and inclusivity lately. To think about how to make things more inclusive, I had to first consider what makes them not inclusive. What might make me hesitate to visit a park or take a trail might be different for you. I wouldn’t go somewhere where I felt threatened or too uncomfortable. I wouldn’t go if it cost too much money. I wouldn’t participate in something that’s too far outside my interest area or ability level. You won’t find me skydiving into the Sahara for instance.
When I consider which of our parks and trails here are most inclusive I think about Wendy. She’s someone I met last spring when I invited her to try out a few trails with me using the fare-free Island Transit bus to transport her in her electric wheelchair. We explored the South Whidbey State Park campground loops that are paved and closed to vehicle traffic. We made another stop at South Whidbey Community Park on Maxwelton Road where she cruised on trails through the park coming out on Langley Road. Then we went to the Waterfront Trail in Oak Harbor. By the end of the day she was glowing.
Recently I walked the mile long Waterfront Trail early on a cool, cloudy morning. I didn’t think I’d see many people at that hour but I was wrong. There was someone fishing from the dock in Flintstone Park. In Windjammer Park I found a few people out jogging or walking briskly getting their morning exercise. Others were walking their dogs. Someone was shooting hoops, and a stream of cyclists cruised by in Freund Marsh, all before 8am.
I walked it again on a sunny Sunday afternoon and found the shipwreck spray park full of families with kids enjoying the water. Teens were swimming in the lagoon. Bikes, strollers and skateboards rolled by. There were picnics and basketball games, dog walkers and beach combers.
I took a lot of photos and when I looked at them later, I noticed all the houses, apartments and condos in the background. Oak Harbor is home to over 23,000 people. This park is within a block of shopping, restaurants, and Harbor Station, the main bus hub for Island Transit. This City park provides beach access to everyone and with paved sidewalks they make it accessible for people with disabilities. Families enjoy the water, the playground or read children’s books along the story trail which changes regularly. Young people use the ball fields, basketball courts and wide open lawns for Frisbee. Paddle boarders and kayakers push off from the boat launch. People with mobility issues can stroll or roll along the waterfront or have a picnic overlooking the bay.
When I was there with Wendy she really enjoyed the path through Freund Marsh at the west end of the Waterfront Trail. It’s got a packed gravel surface that’s wide enough for wheelchairs to pass. She brought her binoculars and looked for birds in the native shrubs and open fields. The Scenic Heights trailhead park has a round patio. Stand in the middle and speak softly. You’ll hear your voice bouncing back at you.
The City of Oak Harbor has done an amazing job with their waterfront. This park is free, easy to access by fare free ADA compliant buses, and has something for all ages and abilities. It’s easy to go out for a morning workout, look for birds, get some fresh air at lunch, shoot hoops after school, take the dog for a walk, take the kids swimming or enjoy an after dinner stroll, all right in the heart of town. It’s a park for people. Including me!
Directions: In Oak Harbor from Highway 20 you can take Scenic Heights Road to the trailhead park on the west end. Or go to the south end of Beeksma Drive, City Beach Road or park along Bayshore Drive at Flintstone Park on the east end of the trail.
By Transit: Take Island Transit to Harbor Station and cross the street to Flintstone Park, or get off at the bus stop at Walmart and walk 2 blocks south. All Island Transit buses are ADA compliant with room for 2-3 bikes and 2 wheelchairs. Routes 1, 3, 411W and 14 stop at Harbor Station.
Mobility: This park is wheel friendly from Flintstone Park to Scenic Heights.
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