There’s a key part of kayaking I’ll admit I’ve taken for granted: getting in and out of my boat. During an April 2019 training hosted by Beyond Boundaries and the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired, I, along with some other participants, learned about the many forms watersports access can take from folks with physical disabilities, including local kayaker Sally Wetzler.
Boaters like Wetzler, with the local nonprofit James River Outdoor Coalition (JROC) and their partners, want to help remove barriers to the river in Richmond through projects like the Huguenot Flatwater universal access ramp. In a video about the project on JROC’s website, Wetzler says, “All my last 42 years I’ve been working very hard to break the stereotypes; you know, being told what I can and can’t do because I have a disability. A lot of it is just letting people see what you are doing and going on and doing it.”
According to JROC, there is currently only one ADA-compliant river access ramp within the James River Park System (JRPS), and that’s at Reedy Creek. They say this proposed ramp “will change that by connecting the upper four miles of the James River with ADA-compliant access at both ends” and will “accomplish step two of three of JROC’s long term goal of connecting all seven miles of the James that runs through the JRPS with ADA-compliant access.” Future ambitions include universal access at Pony Pasture.
The new ramp wouldn’t remove existing stairs at Huguenot Flatwater but would allow Wetzler and others to access the water more independently. In the video, she says, “Getting carried around and dragged back and forth is not necessarily the way I want to project my being. Being able to go up and down a ramp to get to the water- it would definitely change it a lot.”
To date, the organization has raised over $140,000, including about $20,000 from the 2019 King of the James adventure triathlon. They also successfully rallied for the City of Richmond’s support, which contributed an additional $340,000. In an interview last week, JROC President Katie Lemmert emphasized that funds are still needed: 2018 estimates came to $345,000, but she says the project needs more funding to cover things like the approach to the ramp, engineering costs, permitting, and inflation.
Lemmert says they’re now entering the final permitting stage and hope to break ground by the end of this year. Sally Wetzler sums up the project’s significance at the end of the video: “It’s something that I think is important to the entire community; not just the community of Richmond, but beyond. Richmond is known for all of the outdoor activities … and we should be at the forefront of making that accessible.”
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