At Power To Be, we are always looking for new community partners to work with that share our passion for connecting people with nature. And often we seek out those who can help to offer a new or unique way of making those connections. Perched high atop the Saanich Inlet, a breathtaking 250m above sea level, sits a relatively new feature to the forested and mountainous skyline of south-eastern Vancouver Island – the Malahat SkyWalk. Picture this: a beautiful, skeletal ice cream cone-like structure made of exposed wood, steel, and glass standing 32 meters tall amongst stands of lush Douglas fir, cedar, spruce, and the naked beauty of Arbutus trees. From the entrance gates walk or roll along the 600m-long elevated TreeWalk, scattered with interpretive features throughout; informational signs inviting one to learn about the diverse and rich human- and natural-history of the area. These signs explain things as varied as the history of the Malahat people, the life cycles of the salmon that are born and ultimately die in the waters below, how a colony of fungus exists under the soil, and even the legend of Bigfoot. Once at the end of the TreeWalk, ascend the 32 m tall Spiral Tower; the views from the 360° lookout are spectacular and easily achieved for all who visit because both the Elevated Walkway and Spiral Tower were built within a 5-8% incline, making it wheelchair, walker, and stroller friendly. From the top you are treated to stunning views of the Saanich Inlet and surrounding mountains and islands. Once you have taken in all the beauty that your soul can handle for one day you have two options on how you descend the tower: back down the way you came or take a laughter-inducing carpet ride down the 20-meter tall/50-meter-long spiral slide that winds it way down the center column of the Spiral. Once at the bottom, return via either the Elevated Walk or the Nature Trail at ground level through the forest. The entire Malahat SkyWalk experience will take you about 2.2 kilometers through treetop canopies and lush forests.
But other than the amazing views and educational information that one may be treated to while exploring the area, there are other reasons for Power To Be’s new found relationship with the Malahat SkyWalk. We all believe in the importance of people having the freedom and ability to connect with the wonders of nature, regardless of what barriers they may face in their day-to-day lives. And this means working to remove those barriers in both philosophy and practice. The beautiful views of the Saanich Inlet and the surrounding mountains and islands were all but inaccessible to those with mobility challenges up until the opening of the SkyWalk. Hiking the rugged trails to the viewpoints on the Gowlland Tod Provincial Park side of the Inlet requires quite a bit of mobility and stamina. There were not many options to take in the views on the Malahat side either, save for a few pull-out spots located almost directly beside the noise and rush of the highway. Now there is an option for just about anybody who wishes to take in all that splendor. And along with the removal of physical barriers comes the desire to remove cultural barriers. Working to honour and recognize the peoples who have stewarded these lands for thousands of years is an important part of what we do, and we must also be sure to partner with those who believe in the same principals.
“Humankind benefits profoundly from experiences of deep nature, and we are grateful to the Malahat Nation for sharing their traditional territory with us. We are honoured to foster understanding of the place and its people with our visitors. These beliefs inspire everything we do.” – from the Malahat SkyWalk website section on their company beliefs. Much like Power To Be they hope to inspire folks to love and respect the places they live and play, to engage with the natural world, to be curious and to learn about the world we live in.
On our first outing at the Malahat SkyWalk we were able to put their commitment to accessibility to the test, bringing a long-time member of the Power To Be community and his family along for the experience. After a morning of kayaking on Prospect Lake, where the whole family were able to enjoy some time laughing and bonding on the water, we made the drive up to the SkyWalk. With one of our participants in a non-powered wheelchair, accessibility was a top priority that day. The gentle grade of the elevated TreeWalk presented no challenge in helping them to the base of the tower and allowed us to truly take in the beautiful forest and interpretive signage along the way. We were treated to sights of woodpeckers flitting from tree to tree, beautifully carved and assembled wooden representations of our local fauna, and a few secrets down below the walkway in the forest that I don’t want to spoil for those who would find them for themselves. Gaining the summit of the tower was no more difficult than the elevated walkway, as the ascending walkway that rose its 32 meters was an easy spiral to the top. Once there the entire group was stunned with excitement as we took in the views around us: the deep greens of the ridges and hills of the southern tip of Vancouver Island and the surrounding Gulf Islands. The white caps of Mt. Baker and the Cascade Range to the southeast. A tableau of clouds that seem to have fallen from a Bob Ross painting and into the real world. And the deep blue waters of the Saanich Inlet below, where we were lucky enough to see a pod of southern resident orca in pursuit of the running salmon, who make their return to the streams and rivers of the area every fall. We were all in awe of the splendor of nature on display.
Without the ease of accessibility and perfect location provided by Malahat SkyWalk, experiences like this may not be possible for folks in our community with mobility barriers. When a new community relationship is formed in such a beautiful way it reminds us that there are many out there who are working to help create inclusive access to nature. Through the sharing of ideas and resources, the entire outdoor community strengthens its ability to ensure that everyone has opportunity to connect with nature, and to possibly experience something profound. We are very grateful for our experience at the Malahat SkyWalk and look forward to continuing to share their love for the wild spaces where they live, and their dedication to accessible nature, with many more members of our community. It’s one heck of a view!