STEHEKIN — The North Central Washington town best known for being accessible only by boat, plane or foot-trail is working on different kind of accessibility.
Several projects completed or now under way in Stehekin will accommodate people in wheelchairs. New tour buses, restrooms, a nature trail and a boat dock will all comply with standards in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We’re really excited. People with accessibility needs are going to be able to come up and enjoy Stehekin,” said Kerry Olson, spokeswoman for North Cascades National Park.
There are no roads to Stehekin, a small community at the head of Lake Chelan. But the Stehekin Valley Road stretches from the Stehekin boat landing up the valley and serves as the gateway to the national park.
Last summer, the National Park Service replaced its old tour buses with new, biodiesel buses with a grant from federal Department of Transportation. The idea was to help the national park become more climate-friendly, but, unlike the old school buses they were using, they are also friendly to those with limited mobility.
Also complete, or nearly complete, are new restrooms at Stehekin Landing designed to fit wheelchairs.
Rainbow Falls, Stehekin’s most popular day tour, can also be reached by someone in a wheelchair. Olson said the paved trail to the lower pool of the waterfall is finished, although work will continue this summer to complete the project to include viewing platforms, rock walls and other improvements on the new Rainbow Mist Trail.
The biggest project of all — a new boat dock for ferry and boat service — won’t be ready until next year. But summer visitors in wheelchairs should have no trouble getting on or off the ferries this summer. October through June are the months when it’s tougher for people in wheelchairs to get ashore, said Kerri Cook, facility operations specialist for the North Cascades National Park.
“In general, as soon as the lake drops a couple of feet below full pool, embarking and disembarking from the passenger ferries becomes pretty challenging,” Cook said.
But plans for the new dock should take care of that, she said. Park Service officials are changing the design of the proposed new dock after getting several good ideas from the public to build a permanent structure rather than a floating dock that would be moved as the water levels change, she said.
Final plans for the new dock are not complete, but it will adhere to specifications to make it wheelchair accessible, she said.
The Park Service hopes to have the new dock built by next spring.
Heidi Soehren, who takes reservations for the Stehekin Landing Resort, said Stehekin welcomes the changes.
“It hasn’t been easy to get handicapped people around,” she said. The resort itself does have some accommodations, including an elevator that goes to the deck and one unit designed for wheelchair accessibility, she said.
But this latest effort to improve the experience for people in wheelchairs will make her job easier, she said, especially when people call and want to bring their elderly parents up.
“Every time I can get a call from someone and make them happy, and help them see Stehekin and the North Cascades National Park, that’s positive,” she said.
Stehekin’s busy season began this week, with Lady of the Lake ferry service traveling up lake every day.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512