PALMER — Roy Wahl, a humble man who is loved by many, gave his friend a remarkable gift. Amy Schooley, Wahl’s longtime friend, came to Alaska to attend a wedding at the Government Peak Recreation Area with her husband. With hopes high for an amazing wedding, Amy and her husband were disappointed. There were no wheelchair-accessible routes to the ceremony, which forced Schooley and her husband to stay in the parking lot. Schooley is bound to a wheelchair, so when Wahl heard of this story, he set out on a yearlong quest to give her an amazing gift.
“I was just blown away,” said Schooley about Wahl’s gift to her. “It’s a blessing. It’s a huge blessing.”
Wahl organized community members and associations to construct a wheelchair-accessible trail at the Government Peak Recreational Area. He first went to the Mat-Su Trails and Parks Foundation and pitched his idea, which they approved. Wahl then proposed the idea to the Valley Mountain Bikers-Hikers, a non-profit advocacy group that is, “dedicated to increasing the quality and quantity of sustainable trails for hikers and mountain bikers throughout the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.”
Alida van Almelo, recently accepted the executive director position for VMBaH. At the time Wahl started to organize this, she was on the board of directors for VMBaH. Helping Wahl make this gift was Almelo’s first project she worked on from start to finish.
“It was a no-brainer when he proposed it to us,” van Almelo said.
Wahl had worked out the details of his proposal to build an American with Disabilities Act compliant trail, and MSTPF awarded a grant to VMBaH to construct it. One site in Seward has rare ADA accessibility, which inspired Wahl’s vision for a trail in the Valley. At Exit Glacier, there is a one-mile loop made to accommodate the handicapped, the elderly and families who bring their children along in a stroller.
Since parks and trails do not require ADA compliance, most lack that type of accessibility, so it’s up to community members like Roy Wahl to gather support to produce them. In fact, the many volunteers logged almost 200 hours, all of which were not contracting hours.
VMBaH contracted Mark Gronewald, who owns Trailwerx, a company that designs and builds durable trails. They laid out the plans for the trail last fall, soon after Wahl and VMBaH proposed the idea to him.
“I’m not as spry as I used to be,” said Gronewald, who understands the importance of these accommodated trails.
Though there’s an ADA trail in Seward, there is limited options for the handicapped that live away from there. Reflections Lake, alongside the Glenn Highway near the Knik River, is also known for its accessibility, but many are restricted to secluding themselves from common activities because their situation limits their mobility.
Schooley and many others now can enjoy Alaska like everyone else. They can witness the gorgeous landscape atop the beautiful overlook which people can view the quaint town below, with magnificent backdrop of mountains, all because of the heart and determination of one man and a caring community.
“On Facebook you see all your friends going hiking and all that kind of stuff,” said Schooley, “I really want to be able to go and do that and now we’re going to be able to.”
The night before the inaugural hike along this trail, a torrential downpour soaked the park. Though a spruce tree toppled over onto the trail, it maintained its integrity, much like the community members and the volunteers throughout the whole process.
Anthony Jones is a Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman intern and senior at Mat-Su Career and Technical High School.