Boardwalk Users Take the High Road

Dawson’s council got to talking about bylaws and boardwalks the other day and one councillor made the comment that there didn’t seem to be any point in keeping our boardwalks clear in the winter because it appeared that nobody used them anyway.

Now, this column isn’t the place for me to engage in political badinage, so I won’t delve very far into that issue other than to say that there is a bylaw which requires people to keep the boardwalks in front of their properties clear.

If they don’t, then the town does the job and bills them for it. I’m grateful for that because I usually do walk on the boardwalks, but it’s true that a lot of other people don’t.

Boardwalks are one of the visually significant features of Dawson’s downtown core, one of the things that a lot of our visitors mention when they blog online or fill in guest questionnaires around town.

But it does seem that a great many of our guests simply like to look at them rather than actually use them.

It would be at least 20 years now since I wrote a summertime poem (which maybe will turn up here some issue) about the hazards of walking the streets with one eye glued to a camera and the other apparently unable to see the traffic. So I have been aware for some time that the councillor’s comment was a fair one.

Our boardwalks are a challenge for anyone with impaired mobility. They are raised a metre or so off street level in memory of the 1979 flood, just as most of the buildings below 6th Avenue are elevated for the same reason. Just getting on and off of them can be a challenge.

Because of the permafrost, our boardwalks are only level for the first season after they are installed. After that they tend to follow the perennially altering contours of the land beneath them, bobbing and weaving like an inebriated music festival attendee who has forgotten why he came to town in the first place.

Our boardwalks are made of untreated lumber, so they do deteriorate, break, chip and sometimes become unsafe well in advance of the replacement schedule.

In the spring, summer and fall, the corners of the streets tend to become a collection area for meltwater, rainwater and mud, and it’s not uncommon to have to leave the boardwalk before an intersection in order to walk around these obstacles.

While the town has made some attempts over the years to have dirt ramps that lead from the streets to the boardwalks for the sake of wheelchairs, handcycles or those little go-carts that have become common among older folk, these tend to get damaged when the streets are ploughed or graded. And besides, they tend to lead right into the aforementioned puddles, so it’s hard to say how useful they are.

Keeping the boardwalks safe in winter is a challenge. The light snowfall does get trodden to hardpack pretty quickly, and the sweeper that has been making the rounds on a lot of our walks lately doesn’t seem to get the bottom skim of ice off of them; so they’re clear, but they’re slick.

But even our winter visitors seem to like them – at least, to look at. That’s probably the only thing that’s completely clear about them.

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