Everyone Uses It; Bryant access for disabled means beach time for all
By Allison Batdorff / firstname.lastname@example.org
TRAVERSE CITY – Waves lap. Warm breezes, cool sun-tilted faces. It’s a lovely, relaxing morning at the beach until Samir Moubarak’s power wheelchair hits the sand and launches people into action.
The chair immediately founders in the warm powder, and it takes three sets of arms to muscle it back up to the platform. Lesson #1: “Set the brake before you get out,” joked Moubarak, 33, as he sank back into his char, relieved.
The momentary excitement illustrated a point. Sand is not conducive to much besides walking, and it acts as a fence for Moubarak, who longed for Traverse City’s lakeside living enough to move here from downstate but can’t use the beach without wheelchair access.
“I love the beach and love coming out here,” Moubarak said at Bryant Park last week as he attended a ribbon cutting of the city’s third access path.
Bryant Park joins a growing list of accessible beaches and parks in the region, including Clinch Park, Keith J. Charters State Park, Petoskey State Park Beach and Boyne City’s Whiting Park Beach. Alanson’s Camp Petosega Beach joins the fold June 27th with a 10:30 ribbon cutting.
“Access projects are set in motion by people who bring their ideas to Disability Network Northern Michigan,” said Annie Campbell, the group’s development director. “Walkways connect people to water; the organization “connects the dots” between funding, permitting and construction,” Campbell said.
“The perception is ‘We don’t see disabled people at the beach.’ Well, there is a good reason,” Campbell said.
“Once you dig those wheels into the sand, it is very difficult to get around,” said Rhonda Estes.
Her husband, Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes, and son Vincent are the primary private donors for Bryant Park’s rigid modular walkway. The “ADAWALK” is made by Michigan Lake Products in Elk Rapids, and the walkway and railed sitting area cost about $16,000.
Disability Network works indoors as well, and helped the State Theatre assist impaired moviegoers with closed captioned glasses and a movie-action narrating earpiece.
“Those projects fall under the “Access for Everyone” initiative. Everyone – because that’s who ends up using the services once they’re installed,” Campbell said. Wobbly walkers holding onto elbows. Amputees. Families on the beach rolling coolers and strollers. People who don’t want sand in their shoes.
Sure enough, general beach traffic late last week gravitated naturally to the vinyl boardwalk, with fluffy-haired teenagers sidestepping to allow wheelchair passage.
“Everybody uses it,” said Tom Irish, of the “Mobi-mats’ installed at Keith J. Charters State Park and Clinch Park. “People with strollers, kids who don’t want to walk in the hot sand. It’s really enjoyed by everybody and I like seeing that.”
Irish, 51, replaced beach walking with marina rolling after fracturing his spine in a motorcycle crash seven years ago. His power wheelchair rides fine on parking lot asphalt, but can’t go the distance to the water. “It’s an isolating experience, especially in Traverse City, when you’re surrounded by beaches but barred entry by the sand,” he said.
“(The Marina) is not nearly as fun as going to the sand where everyone is at,” Irish said. “Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to do anything other than walk on a beach. It’s such a short distance, and a simple thing, but it’s almost impassable unless you can walk.”