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California beaches amp up fun, thanks to new mobility devices that navigate sand

Jon Menzies pushes Sean Goral in a beach wheelchair alongside his dog Spirit in Santa Barbara.
Jon Menzies pushes Sean Goral in a beach wheelchair alongside his dog Spirit in Santa Barbara.
(Josh Gill )

Your day at a California beach is about to get better.

In a first, the California Coastal Conservancy has approved $112,000 in grants to improve mobility access at California beaches.

For the record:
12:01 PM, Sep. 12, 2019 An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that grants would be used to buy new manual wheelchairs for use at Morro Bay State Park. They are for use at Morro Bay area beaches.

The awards will go to 11 nonprofits and public agencies to buy, store and maintain beach wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment at 18 coastal sites stretching from Humboldt to San Diego counties.

As a beach lover and power wheelchair user, I’m looking forward to trying a beach wheelchair I can maneuver on my own, something I’ve never done but that now will be possible in multiple locations.

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You can look forward to 29 new beach wheelchairs (five motorized), an all-terrain walker (which has four, large inflatable wheels that can traverse sand), new equipment storage lockers and repair kits to keep equipment functioning.

The grants include money for outreach and advertising so beachgoers know which locations along California’s 840 miles of coastline have this new gear.

“We have, in the past, funded beach wheelchairs at specific places, but this was our first foray into a formal grant cycle for this purpose,” said Amy Hutzel, deputy executive officer of the California Coastal Conservancy. “When you do a grant round, you hear about places and programs that you might not have been thinking about.”

Jack’s Helping Hand, a San Luis Obispo-based nonprofit that’s trying to ramp up a beach program for local children with disabilities, realized the wheelchairs available at two popular beach destinations were in sad shape.

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“The Morro Bay beach wheelchair....needed to be replaced,” said Leslie Orradre, executive director.

A new motorized beach chair will be bought using a $10,000 grant from the conservancy. Funds from other grants will be used to buy two new manual chairs for use at Morro Bay State Park and Avila Beach, plus cover maintenance costs.

“These are at public beaches, so everyone can use them,” Orradre said.

The manual versions will be upgrades from what’s currently available, which are lightweight chairs with large tires that a user needs someone to push. The new ones will be low to the ground so you can push yourself and also touch the sand and water or pick up seashells.

All three of the new beach wheelchairs will have padded seats, postural supports and other accessories to accommodate children or adults.

Avila Lighthouse Suites Hotel stores and manages check-out of the beach wheelchairs. Call (805) 627-1900 to inquire. It’s first come first serve, but you can reserve weeks in advance.

For Morro Bay, call the harbor department at (805) 772-6254. Let them know when you’ll arrive and they will bring the equipment to you at the Morro Rock parking lot.

The conservancy will begin disbursing the funds in the next couple of months, which means the new equipment should be in place in time for the 2020 beach season, Hutzel said.

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The conservancy is considering more rounds of grants to increase coastal access.

“We received $211,000 in applications and funded $112,000, so we already know there is another $100,000 in need out there,” she said.

Here’s a breakdown of the grant awards:

• $6,672 to Humboldt County for beach wheelchairs for public use at Clam Beach County Park

• $6,000 to Environmental Traveling Companions to acquire a beach wheelchair and beach walker for Schoonmaker Beach in Marin County

• $13,762 to Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks to acquire beach wheelchairs for Natural Bridges State Beach, Manresa State Beach, Twin Lakes State Beach, Seabright State Beach and Palm Beach

• $11,000 to Santa Cruz County to acquire a beach wheelchair and storage unit at Rio Del Mar State Beach

• $14,500 to the city of Santa Barbara to acquire beach wheelchairs at East Beach

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• $14,000 to Heal the Bay to acquire beach wheelchairs for Santa Monica State Beach and the Santa Monica Pier, and for student use at the Heal the Bay Aquarium programs in Los Angeles County

• $6,000 to Crystal Cove Conservancy to acquire beach wheelchairs for the Crystal Cove State Park’s Historic District Beach and Moro Beach in Orange County

• $5,500 to the city of Laguna Beach to acquire beach wheelchairs for Main Beach in Orange County

• $11,100 to the city of Oceanside to acquire beach wheelchairs for Oceanside Pier and Oceanside Harbor Beach in San Diego County

• $13,620 to the city of San Diego to acquire beach wheelchairs for Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach in San Diego County


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