By MADDY VITALE
Ocean City already has a beach mat program in place that rivals all others as one of the best, if not the best, along the Jersey Shore.
City officials have been working toward installing longer mats at some of the popular beaches in the future. In August, City Council approved a nearly $11 million funding package for a series of capital projects that includes expanding the beach mats program.
Tom Londres, an Ocean City resident who also serves as a board member with the Christopher Reeve Foundation, spoke about beach accessibility during a community meeting Saturday organized by First Ward Councilman Terry Crowley Jr.
He talked briefly about how he would like to see an expanded program to give people in wheelchairs the same access to the beaches as everyone else.
Londres, who has a family member in a wheelchair, said “Ocean City does a spectacular job,” but more can be done and at least studied.
“They are the leaders, if not the leader,” he said in an interview Tuesday about the city’s ambitious beach mat and handicap accessibility program.
The bright blue mats are made of hard plastic. They sit on top of the sand to create an easy-to-walk pathway.
A longer mobility mat that stretches down to the high tide line at the 34th Street beach was installed for the 2019 summer season. It serves as a model for the mats officials would like to have at other beaches in the resort in the future.
Londres would like to see more done, including longer beach mats that could bring people in wheelchairs closer to the ocean.
“In parking lots, the handicapped parking spots are closest to the stores. If we will be the leading town, let’s try to get people with disabilities on the beach and as close to the water as we can,” he said.
Londres, who lives in Ocean City with his wife Nancy, is on the Board of Directors for the Christopher Reeve Foundation.
Reeve, the late actor, was also an equestrian. In 1995, he was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident. He died in 2004 of heart failure, according to the foundation website. He and his late wife, Dana, who died in 2006 of cancer, created the foundation to help others who were paralyzed and to spread awareness and raise funds for research.
Londres said the foundation is in talks with Ocean City about a potential partnership.
“We have made an introduction between the Christopher Reeve Foundation to see if we can partner,” he said.
Crowley also confirmed the possible partnership.
He characterized the city’s beach mat program as a “tremendous success.” He said everyone enjoys having them.
“Everyone enjoys them, but they are expensive to clear off. The city will do a better job in cleaning them off,” Crowley said of removing sand from the mats in the upcoming summer season.
Crowley also said Ocean City wants to “accentuate the program” to make Ocean City a showplace for handicapped access.
Part of that would be possibly establishing a partnership with the Christopher Reeve Foundation, he said.
For the last five years or so, the city has made it a point to install mobility mats at each beach. The goal is to expand the program and put longer mats in at other beaches.
“People often want longer and more expansive access paths — to make it easier to get to the beach,” City Business Administrator George Savastano said in a statement in August. “We also want to accommodate them and help the elderly, disabled, and handicapped beach users.”
There are also ADA-accessible mats stretching onto the beaches at Surf Road, Waverly Beach, off E. Atlantic Boulevard, Stenton Place, 14th Street and 58th Street. These pathways lead to sitting areas where people in wheelchairs can enjoy the beach.
Accessibility measures also include ramps over the Boardwalk or bulkhead, hard-packed dune crossovers and plastic beach mats across portions of soft sand.