2017-07-13 / Front Page

Accessibility issue addressed at Biddeford Pool beach

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


The new access ramp at Biddeford Pools Beach was built by Biddeford Center of Technology students and installed by the public works department this past spring. The ramp, combined with a new beach accessible wheelchair, will help visitors reach the ocean who otherwise have difficulty walking. The new beach chair will be free and available for rent to residents and non-residents alike. (Courtesy photo) The new access ramp at Biddeford Pools Beach was built by Biddeford Center of Technology students and installed by the public works department this past spring. The ramp, combined with a new beach accessible wheelchair, will help visitors reach the ocean who otherwise have difficulty walking. The new beach chair will be free and available for rent to residents and non-residents alike. (Courtesy photo) BIDDEFORD – Visitors in wheelchairs to Biddeford Pool Beach will soon be able to access the sand and water thanks to a purchase by the city of Biddeford.

On June 12, the Biddeford Recreation Department bought a beach-accessible wheelchair for $1,075 from Rhode Island-based Marine Rescue Products.

Recreation department director Carl Walsh said the chair, which was expected before the Fourth of July, has not arrived. He said the chair was not being shipped from Marine Rescue’s location in Rhode Island. Walsh said the delivery delay is due to a shipping error.

“We’re tracking it down and waiting to hear back,” Walsh said.

Walsh said the recreation department only plans to purchase one chair for now in order to try it out. He said it might be helpful to have another eventually but wants to make sure one can accommodate people.

“Once we get it in, we’ll see how many folks need it and want to use it,” Walsh said.

Walsh said the goal in purchasing the chair was to provide a service for beachgoers. He said people would be able to rent it from the parking attendants stationed at the bathhouse. He said the beach wheelchair would be free to rent for anyone and available until 5 p.m.

Walsh said people appeared to have the most difficulty in the past navigating the ramp that used to lead to the shore. He said this past spring, students from the Biddeford High School Center of Technology designed and built a new extended ramp. Walsh said the public works department picked the ramp up from the students and installed it.

“That alone has improved beach access considerably,” he said. “It was a big team effort.”

Walsh said he had been looking over different solutions to the old ramp for a number of years as beachgoers complained on a regular basis. He said center of technology students have done projects for the city in the past and, “always do a great job.” Walsh said the new ramp is wider with multiple sections. He said the previous ramp was too steep and often shifted with the changing sand and tides.

“It was a tough one to crack, but I think we’ve done it now,” Walsh said.

Lifeguard captain Chris Lessard said improving access for everyone to the beach is a great idea. During his time working at the beach Lessard has seen many people struggling down the old ramp. Lessard said the large wheels on the new beach wheelchair should make a big difference.

“If it’s what I think it is, it would be great,” Lessard said.

Lessard said he has received many positive comments on the new ramp. He said it provides closer access to the beach and reduces the drop-off from the end of the ramp to the sand. Lessard said while the chair hasn’t arrived yet he is excited to have it.

Walsh said state Rep. Martin Grohman (Biddeford) first brought up the idea for the beach wheelchair a year ago.

Grohman said the idea started when he spoke with a Biddeford resident, who cares for her homebound mother. He said those conversations spurred an appreciation of how nice it was for wheelchair bound residents to access the beach. Grohman said he spoke with Walsh last fall and Walsh continued working on the project through the winter.

“I commend (Walsh) for sticking with it and pushing to get that project together,” Grohman said.

Grohman said a visit to the beach can be therapeutic. He said beaches are part of Maine’s heritage and the reason so many people choose to visit and live here. Grohman said he often likes to introduce himself before the state legislature as “Martin Grohman from the beautiful beachfront community of Biddeford” and finds people are surprised to hear Biddeford has beaches.

“Our beaches are kind of a hidden gem,” Grohman said. “We’re really fortunate with the way the city manages and makes them available.” Contact staff writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com.

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