- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Kari Haldeman gets a real workout when she takes her two children to the beach.

The reason: her 9-year-old daughter is disabled and uses a wheelchair.

“It just sinks,” in the sand, she said. “They are very heavy.”

So Haldeman also packs a jogging stroller and she looks for places with mobility mats - blue, woven rugs that make a solid passageway through soft sand.

They are few and far between at Delaware’s beaches and most only get people with disabilities about halfway to their goal of the beach and water. Some areas also have specialized, wide-tire beach wheelchairs. But they don’t work for visitors like Haldeman’s daughter, who she said, can’t sit up straight.

Haldeman isn’t alone. Some 56,000 Delaware residents have some type of disability and many face limits when they try to reach the beach.

So state park officials are participating in a unique fundraising effort to try to improve access for those with disabilities.

Their goal is to raise $30,000 by the end of Thursday through the National Recreation and Park Association “Fund Your Park” crowdfunding campaign. Through early Thursday morning, the project had gotten $3,425 in donations from 59 people, far short of the goal.

Delaware applied for the Fund Your Park program with their accessibility project and was one of a six projects selected for the national, web-based campaign. The projects range from improvements for a bike trail to preservation of a pineapple packing house. The crowdfunding project for Delaware’s beaches ends Thursday but people can still send a check if they are interested in helping with accessibility in state parks, state Parks Director Ray Bivens.

Part of whatever money is raised is planned to go toward more mobility mats.

“These mobility mats, they are good for everybody - small kids, older adults, not just the disabled,” Bivens said.

For parks officials, money is always an issue, and state officials have sought donations for everything from concerts to infrastructure improvements.

With this, “we wanted something that appealed to a larger audience,” Bivens said.

State parks already have some mobility mats and beach access wheelchairs, but they want more mats to expand accessibility.

“Mobility mats’ costs vary by width but on average run between $75 to $100 a foot with typical width running 5 or 6 feet. So a 100-yard long mat, 5 feet wide, I would expect to run $7,500,” Bivens said. “Beach wheel chairs run between $1,500 and $2,000.”

Tracie Gasiorowski said she actually thought about purchasing one of the chairs after her experience taking her children to New Jersey’s Seaside Heights last summer. Her 20-year-old son, John, uses a walker and couldn’t use it in the soft sand.

“He had to crawl” to get through the sand and reach the beach, she said. “As soon as you hit the sand, there’s no access. The walker, that didn’t even keep you stable.”

And the episode didn’t just impact her oldest son, her three younger boys were troubled by the fact that their oldest brother had to crawl to the beach, she said.

And once they were there, John worried the entire time about how he was going to get back through the sand.

Gasiorowski said beach access is a real issue for people with disabilities and the cost of the beach chairs is prohibitive for most families, including her own.

It is these potential visitors that Delaware parks officials hope to reach out to with this latest project.

“If we don’t reach our goal” in the fundraising drive, “that doesn’t mean nothing is going to happen,” Bivens said. The state has some money set aside for mobility mats and they are working with manufacturers to try to get some additional help with the cost.

“It seems like this project has really struck a chord,” Bivens said.


Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com

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