Natasha Baldin/News Staff
Power To Be, a not-for-profit based on Prospect Lake in Saanich, is celebrating the unveiling of brand-new, fully accessible buildings and a documentary that chronicles the five-year process as they strive to make nature accessible to all.
Power To Be aims to remove the physical, cognitive, social and financial barriers associated with accessing the natural world and offers various programs including inclusive hiking, camping, snowshoeing and canoeing adventures, as well as wellness, community and life skills programs.
”It’s about creating support systems, networks and a sense of community and belonging because disabilities are not to be fixed — they’re meant to be supported and understood, and we build strategies to help people live a healthy life to their best means,” said Jason Cole, co-CEO of Power To Be.
Five years ago the formerly nomadic organization took a significant step in community-building by finally having a place to call their own. They signed a 25-year lease on a 78-acre site on Prospect Lake for $1 a year from the Steele family, the owners of the site’s former Prospect Lake golf course.
After a lengthy planning process and a $10-million donation from a long-term donor, Power To Be broke ground on the site and started filming a documentary that chronicles the five-year planning and construction process each step of the way.
The newly released documentary, titled “Everyone Belongs in Nature,” includes the voice of Power To Be participant and accessibility advocate Marnie Essery, who was involved in the consultation process from the beginning.
Essery, who has been involved with Power To Be for almost 25 years and has participated in a number of its programs, said a highlight for her is using the TrailRider, a one-wheeled, all-terrain device supported by an individual on either side to climb terrain that would not be possible in her wheelchair.
She considers herself a “TrailRider enthusiast” and has a bucket list of places she wants to explore next.
“Sitting there on the TrailRider and being able to look at the scenery and know there was no way I’d be able to get there sitting in my wheelchair, those kinds of experiences are ones that I crave,” she said.
She said she “shared from the heart” during the documentary, advocating for the power of creating barrier-free experiences in nature.
“I remember sitting mesmerized by the water at the new Prospect Lake golf course site and talking about the things that could be on the new site and all that it could offer so everyone of all ages with disabilities can have their own opportunities and experiences in nature,” she said.
The organization brought in architect Christine Lintott for the design process. Ashley Dueck, director of systems and communications at Power To Be, said Lintott’s approach to universal design was impactful from the beginning.
“When we went to interview (Lintott), she didn’t have an idea. She said, ‘I don’t know what I want to build — I want to talk to your participants.’ And that resonated with us so strongly because we wanted their voices to be heard about what they needed to be perfected,” Dueck said.
The site is now home to two single-storey, fully-accessible buildings, complete with universal design features including multiple accessible bathrooms, wide hallways and automatic doors. The first is an office hub home to staff and participant lounges, and the second is a gear hub, which houses a community board room, a large kitchen and equipment storage.
“To be able to go out and tour the place and see just how much thought they put into the universal design features in the building was pretty impressive,” Essery said. “Everyone belongs in nature, and (Power To Be has) created a site that allows that to happen.”
HeroWorks, another non-profit, is currently supporting the transformation of two other buildings on the Prospect Lake site. One is an old barn that will be turned into an indoor play space, and the other will be a large pavilion that will fit up to 80 people. These two projects will be revealed in mid-August.
Power To Be is hosting a celebratory day Sept. 9 at the Prospect Lake site to celebrate its 25-year anniversary with the community. The organization hopes to welcome 25,000 people onto the site in the next 3 years.
It also hosts several free Have A Go Days each year, where members of the community can learn more about its programs and experiment with equipment.
“We live in a society where supports are getting less and less, so it’s really critical to have opportunities in nature,” Essery said.
The documentary can be found here.