Carolina Beach looks to expand accessibility to the beach

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Testing the DuraDeck in Carolina Beach. Courtesy photo.
Testing the DuraDeck in Carolina Beach. Courtesy photo.

CAROLINA BEACH – Following the first season of making WaterWheels available to visitors, the Carolina Beach Parks and Recreation Department is looking to increase the accessibility of the beach even more.

A few options will be presented before Carolina Beach’s Town Council, according to Parks and Recreation Director Eric Jelinski.

“Some of our physical wheelchairs on the beach need to be replaced,” Jelinski said. “They’re already earmarked money for chairs, but they were also looking at using that money to possibly get a DuraDeck.”

The product Jelinski referred to would allow those in wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility devices to move more easily from the wooden boardwalk onto the sand. Made of high-density polyethylene plastic, the four-by-eight foot sections are half an inch thick and weigh 86 pounds. Unlike the typical plastic mats that are rolled out at other beaches, emergency vehicles such as firetrucks and ambulances can drive over DuraDeck planks.

“It’s like putting a sidewalk on the sand,” Jelinski said.

The plan, according to Jelinski, would be to place a T-shaped section at the end of one of the current accesses off the wooden boardwalk (the specific location is yet to be determined) and test it out during the upcoming offseason.

“Before we invest in multiple Ts, we want to see how well it works and how it responds to traffic,” Jelinski said. “We’re not 100 percent sure it’ll work, but we’re hoping it will.”

Jelinski said he budgeted enough for about 15 or 16 four-by-eight sections (about $3,500) in the current 2016 – 2017 budget, but if the town decided to go with the DuraDeck, it would not be installed for several months.

“It’s something that would not be implemented until next season,” Jelinski said, giving an approximate date of Memorial Day 2017. “If that first T works, then we’ll look at implementing another one.”

If town officials decide not to go with the DuraDeck, the money would be used to purchase more beach wheelchairs for the town’s fleet. Currently, Carolina Beach has two standard wheelchairs made of PVC pipes, which allow for movement on the sand, and three WaterWheels, which float and can be used in the ocean. The two PVC wheelchairs are located under lifeguard stands on the beach strand, but the WaterWheels are stored at the Parks and Recreation Center behind Town Hall and must be reserved. All are offered free of charge to the public.

“(The WaterWheels) have been well received,” said Jelinski of the floating wheelchairs. “But we probably won’t buy anymore this year, as we need more of the standard wheelchairs available for lifeguards to provide for beachgoers.”

Jelinski said the council could also go with a hybrid option of funding both a DuraDeck and some replacement chairs. In addition to money already set aside in the budget, the town would also look into applying for Connect NC parks and recreation grants for programs benefiting disabled veterans.

All of these efforts have come as a result of feedback from Carolina Beach visitors and residents, according to the parks and recreation director.

“Carolina Beach is already one of the most accessible beaches in North Carolina, with our beach wheelchair program and our ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant ramps,” Jelinski said. “These are suggestions that were brought to us by the community, by visitors, and we’re more than happy to listen to what their needs are. It’s nice to have that relationship with them.”