(Nov. 9, 2018) Ocean City wants to improve sand access for the handicapped and mobility challenged next summer with an expansion of a dune crossover matting pilot program launched last year.
Engineering Manager Paul Mauser said the city worked with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in 2017 to install improved dune crossover surfaces at 130th and 94th streets in accordance with Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines.
“It was well received and the feedback we received was tremendous,” he said. “That’s why we completed the trial test period.”
Ocean City resident Janet Mazor originally championed the cause after recognizing ocean front access was off limits to many less than able bodied visitors.
“It started about two years ago when I realized people who were disabled couldn’t get to the beach, it was impossible,” she said. “So, you’re stuck looking at other people enjoying the beach and you can’t get there.”
Moved to action, Mazor spent two weeks walking the beach and collected hundreds of signatures supporting the endeavor.
“I got a list of 200 names of people who were in favor of getting … some sort of mat to help people get down to the beach,” she said.
Despite hitting some initial dead ends, Mazor worked with local officials and politicians in Annapolis to get a trial project off, or perhaps on, the ground for summer 2017.
“The first time I went to the beach and saw it I was blown away,” she said. “There were so many people in wheelchairs that were previously not able to get to the beach that were ecstatic.”
With the trial run deemed successful, Mauser said the program will now be expanded.
“Installation is planned to be completed by Memorial Day for the summer season,” he said. “We’re targeting existing streets with ADA accessibility crossovers.”
Mauser said although Ocean City currently has handicapped beach access points about every ten blocks, with clay added to improve dune crossover surfacing, matting provides a smoother surface to transverse.
“The locations are currently being detailed and we’re not sure of the exact number yet,” he said. “The project will be publicly bid in February.”
Mauser said funding channels would be identical to the pilot program and coordinated through the state.
“It’s actually funded through the town but we’re working in conjunction with the state [which] own the dunes.”
Mazor said the matting would provide a significant safety upgrade over the hard clay previously installed at dune crossovers.
“When you have hard clay and then you put sand on top … you have pits in the bottom that you don’t see,” she said. “It’s actually dangerous.”
Although a wealth of positive feedback was provided during conversations on the sands this summer, Mazor said the first testimonial shared was particularly poignant.
“There was a little boy with dystonia [movement disorder characterized by involuntarily muscle contractions] with his grandmother,” she said. “This was the first time he was able to wheel himself down to the beach.”
Numerous people learned of the new crossover mats from social media posts on Facebook, Mazor said.
“I spoke to one woman who said she went to other beaches because they had handicapped accessibility, but never in Ocean City,” she said. “When she saw this, she rented for a week with her son.”
Additionally, the matting has been of assistance to elderly people using walkers and families with strollers, Mazor said.
“We have a friend without a leg who now can get to the beach a little more comfortably without falling,” she said.
While acknowledging seashore topography naturally inhibits handicapped access, Mazor said dune crossover mats afford an inroad.
“It provides the first step of people getting to the beach … to sit with their friends and be part of the community,” she said. “I don’t want a pat on the back, what I wanted was to see was people happy and getting to the beach.”