By MADDY VITALE
Ocean City is getting ready to welcome back vacationers.
That means it is that time of year when the resort rolls out a major amenity for beachgoers – beach mats.
The bright blue mats are made of hard plastic. They sit on top of the sand to create an easy-to-walk pathway.
The mats have been a summer staple on the city’s beaches for more than four years.
They provide easier trips over the sand for people in wheelchairs, for the elderly, parents pushing baby carriages and for anyone else who needs to get on the beach safely and easily.
“The Public Works Department is in the process of installing all of the mats on the crosswalks along the whole length of the island,” said Michael Allegretto, aide to Mayor Jay Gillian. “Some mats are also being replaced.”
The mats will be at each of the street ends along the length of the island.
At first, the mats were at only some beaches. Gillian and his administration emphasized the importance of beach accessibility and set a goal of installing the mats at every beach entrance, which was accomplished for the summer of 2021.
“Every crosswalk has a beach mat,” Allegretto noted.
There are also longer mobility mats that stretch down to the high tide line. Ocean City has one located at the 34th Street beach. It was installed for the 2019 summer season and serves as a model for the mats officials would like to have at other beaches in the resort in the future.
City Council President Bob Barr has been one of the city’s leading advocates for creating more access to the beaches. He is a Fourth Ward councilman whose district includes 34th Street. He and other members of City Council, such as friend and colleague Councilman Keith Hartzell, who is running for mayor in Ocean City’s municipal election Tuesday, have worked with the Gillian administration on creating fully handicap-accessible beaches.
Barr was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair for his mobility. Hartzell and Barr have spoken out about the importance of beach accessibility for people with disabilities, including installing longer mats, such as the one at 34th Street.
“When Bob brings something up about his handicap, you listen. He doesn’t talk about it very much. He knew people were having trouble and he advocates for people,” Hartzell said in an interview. “We have to keep expanding the beach mats. We have to do a better job to make sure everybody is included in everything we do.”
In addition, the city is experimenting with 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.
“The important thing is giving as much access to the beach as possible,” Allegretto said. “The mayor and the whole city team think that our biggest attraction is the beach, and we want to make sure everyone will enjoy it.”
For more information about beach accessibility visit https://www.ocnj.us/Handicapped-Accessibility