We have known for a while now that being outside in nature for as little as 20 minutes can have a beneficial effect on our health, from reducing stress to boosting our immune system.

And it doesn’t take a research project to know that getting outside has made a big difference to many of us in recent months. With stay-at-home orders and other restrictions in place for much of the past year-and-a-half, residents of Chatham-Kent took to our natural spaces for safe opportunities to exercise, clear our minds and find peace.

We explored municipal trails, Ontario Conservation Areas, Ontario Parks and Parks Canada systems and luckily, it would seem like there is space for all to roam—but does that mean that our natural spaces are accessible to all?

Thankfully, there are more and more opportunities for us to say, Yes!

Recently, the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority, which manages many of watersheds and green spaces in and around Chatham-Kent, has put an emphasis on ensuring that two of our local conservation areas are able to be enjoyed by all.

C.M. Wilson, at 21799 Fargo Road in Chatham and Longwoods Road Conservation Area just outside of CK at 8348 Longwoods Road in Mount Brydges have had trail improvements made to increase accessibility, which is good news for everybody.

For Chatham resident and nature lover Sara Nelson, who has cerebral palsy and uses a walker, accessible trails are a must.

“In the past, my first thought has always been that oh, it won’t be accessible, or maybe I could do it but it would tire me out, so knowing that they have put these changes into place make it easier for me to try out (the trails) for sure.”

Sara thinks that overall, Chatham is a good place to live with a disability, thanks to measures like curb cutting at stop lights, paved walkways through our local parks and wide, spacious sidewalks, and welcomes the emphasis on increased accessibility on trails.

Wide, smooth paths that can safely accommodate her walker, signs that are easily seen and an unobstructed way in to the trail is key.

“To me, accessibility means using the trails unassisted.” She adds that barriers may not be obvious to an able-bodied person and that it’s not just about a path without stairs. “If the parking to get to the trail is on gravel, that’s not accessible to me.”

The LTVCA has also focussed on making washrooms more accessible, something that Sara knows many people will appreciate.

“I do realize that when you are trying to make a green space more accessible, you have to bring in man-made things, so it’s a balance… (but) everybody has just been looking down at their phones for so long and we need as many people to be able to get out to our green spaces as possible.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Visit one of these accessible trails around CK or go to Trails Chatham-Kent for more information.

Mud Creek, Chatham – 3.2km paved trail

O’Neill Nature Preserve, Chatham – 1.3km granular, paved trail

Spicebush Trail, Rondeau Park – 1.6km granular, boardwalk trail

Fergusun Park Trail, Thamesville – .87km granular trail

South Lakeshore Trail, Mitchell’s Bay – 1.4km granular, boardwalk, paved trail

Crother’s Park Trail, Wallaceburg – 1.3km granular trail