New dock at Jewel Lake makes area accessible to everyone

Anchorage’s Parks and Recreation Department opened a new dock on Jewel Lake yesterday. Unlike the previous, weather-damaged facility that loomed 15 feet over the water, this one makes the lake accessible — to everyone.

Jewel lake dock

Project proponents speak as Ira Edwards tests out the new accessible dock on Jewel Lake.
Project proponents speak as Ira Edwards tests out the new accessible dock on Jewel Lake.

Traffic on Diamond roars by as Ira Edwards tosses a kayak into the water then raises himself out of his wheelchair. He’s testing out the new accessible dock at Jewel Lake in south Anchorage. The kayak sits in a metal cage affixed to the edge of the low wooden dock.

“As a paralyzed person, I don’t have quite the torso control that you might,” Edwards explains.  “And it allows me to have a more stable platform to get into the boat. So once I’m in the water the boats are naturally stable enough to try to avoid tipping over, unless I do something really dumb.”

Edwards was paralyzed when a tree landed on him in 2010. He was clearing trails in a state park after a massive wind storm. But he says he hasn’t let his injury slow him down; he still skis, hunts, fishes, and paddles.

“You have to make the choice to get out and do things. You can sit at home and mope about things, but if you want to do it, you have to go for it.”

Edwards says projects like the new dock help make that possible.

Maeve Nevins managed the $60,000 project for the municipality. She says some features that make the dock accessible are simple.

“As you come down, you notice the wood four by four bumpers?” she says she she walks down the low grade ramp. “That’s so that a wheelchair or a person who is blind or whatnot can navigate. They can find their way, and their not going to fall off.”

The bumpers line the entire custom-built dock, which is low enough on the water for anyone to fish from it. It also sports a two-tiered bench to help someone move from a wheelchair into a boat. It’s the first accessible public dock in Anchorage. Nevins says the municipality is also installing accessible playgrounds all over the city. They have $100,000 to upgrade Jewel Lake Park.

Beth Edmands Merritt is the CEO of Challenge Alaska, an organization that’s been working with people with disabilities for 30 years. She says projects like this help people overcome both mental and physical barriers to being active. She says they help the community, too.

“The more people see people with disabilities out and about, they realize what can be achieved.”

Down on the water, Edwards paddles about a bit then pulls up to the dock to a handful of people.

“Wa-la! I floated, I launched. I loaded it back up.”

“Perfect!” his friend says, as he helps Edwards load up the kayak and the dock is now available for the next person seeking an adventure.