By David Judd
PEOPLE who use wheelchairs will be able to enjoy Port Dover beach this summer.
County council plans to install mobility mats on the beach at the end of Walker Street.
The mats, made of strong, lightweight material, will provide a firm, stable path for wheelchairs, scooters, strollers, walkers and anyone who has difficulty walking across sand.
The mats will cost $25,765.
A federal grant of $16,750 will cover two-thirds of the cost.
Port Dover businessman Peter Knechtel has offered to lead fundraising to help pay for part of the county’s share of $9,000.
The mats will be placed in an L-shape on the beach, allowing users to travel close to the water, and then have a resting place to enjoy the beach with their families and friends.
The mats will be wide enough for two-way traffic.
Sand can sift through the mats, so they will be easy to clean with a broom or leaf blower.
The mats will be rolled up and stored for the winter.
His late father, Fred, inspired Mr. Knechtel to find a way to make the beach accessible.
“In later years, he (Fred) was restricted to using a walker and then a scooter,” Mr. Knechtel wrote to county council.
“Having spent most of his adult life on Port Dover’s beach, he yearned to be able to get close to the water again.
“Also, he witnessed, on his sidewalk vantage point, many others who were unable to enjoy what we take for granted.”
Other communities, including Wasaga, St. Catharines, Port Bruce and Toronto, have accessible beaches, David Theriault, chair of Norfolk’s accessibility advisory committee, told councillors on Jan. 23.
The mats will attract people to Norfolk’s first inclusive beach, he said.
Port Dover Coun. John Wells and Waterford Coun. Harold Sonnenberg opposed installing the beach mats.
They failed to persuade councillors to return the $16,000 grant to the federal government.
Coun. Wells expressed worries about the cost of the mats and their maintenance. He hears complaints almost every day in the summer that the beach isn’t clean enough.
Coun. Wells said Port Dover is fortunate to have a pier with a wonderful surface to travel and benches to sit on to watch the water and boats.
Coun. Sonnenberg foresaw problems with cost, maintenance, cleaning, bottlenecks on the mats and wheelchairs getting stuck in the sand.
Speaking for the majority, Mayor Charlie Luke said the county was $9,000 away from making a beach accessible for people who can’t experience it the way they should.
It reflects what the county is about, Mayor Luke said.
“Beaches are important and accessibility should be a priority,” he said.