By MADDY VITALE
Ocean City is rolling out more amenities for beachgoers this summer — literally.
In Mayor Jay Gillian’s State of the City address delivered at the March 11 City Council meeting, he said, “We expanded our beach mat program to increase accessibility for everybody. We plan to have mats at every beach entrance this summer.”
The mats provide easier trips over the sand for those in wheelchairs, for the elderly and anyone else who needs to get on the beach safely and easily.
The distinctive blue mat, made of hard plastic, sits on top of the sand to create an easy-to-walk pathway.
They are not new to Ocean City. They have been an important amenity installed in the last few years in phases at many, but not all of the beaches.
Plans have been underway to improve the gem of the barrier island and one way to do that is to have mobility mats at every beach by this summer.
“When I became mayor, it was something that I felt was so important. We are constantly trying to upgrade our mats because they have been so great for our residents and visitors,” Gillian said in an interview Wednesday. “Our ultimate goal is to give everyone full access to each beach.”
Currently, there are 45 beach mats at the city’s beach entrances and the goal is to have an additional 25 of them put down for the 2021 summer season, said Michael Allegretto, aide to the mayor.
Whether a person needs it because he or she is in a wheelchair or to provide ease in pushing a baby carriage or toting beach items, the mats make travel much easier on the expansive shoreline, Gillian noted.
“We want to give access to everyone. Sometimes it just helps beachgoers with baby carriages or for your grandparents and kids,” Gillian said. “At the end of the day, we want to provide better access for everyone.”
There are also longer mobility mats that stretch down to the tideline. 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.
For now, however, the mats that are installed at most beaches and will be installed at others are just at the beach entrances.
City Council President Bob Barr, whose Fourth Ward district includes 34th Street, has been one of the city’s leading advocates for creating more access to the beaches.
Born with cerebral palsy, Barr uses a wheelchair for his mobility.
“The beach mats are important because they make the beaches accessible to everyone,” he said. “Without them, someone in a wheelchair would have difficulty.”
He pointed out that while beach chairs designed to use on the beaches work well, even they can be difficult to navigate in the deep sand.
“I certainly can’t take my regular wheelchair on the beach,” Barr pointed out. “It just doesn’t work in the sand.”
Barr said that he and fellow City Councilman Keith Hartzell have pushed for the mobility mats, realizing their importance.
The two city officials are friends as well as colleagues and Hartzell has accompanied Barr to the beach on several occasions.
Barr said that Hartzell knows first hand that the beach mats are effective and much-needed for those who would otherwise have trouble getting onto the beach.
“I hope that we can have beach mats at every beach this summer. I know they were ordered,” Barr explained. “I am not sure that will happen this summer, but I am hopeful. It is our goal. And I am sure that it won’t be too long before we reach that goal.”