Everyone Deserves A Day At The Beach

By Skyler Archibald
Photos: Rebecca Sprengeler / Sunset Empire Park & Recreation District

There’s something magical about living at the beach. The United States features more than 90,000 miles of coastline, and Oregon features 1,410 of those miles. For me and many of the residents who find coastal living so appealing, the reason is—the beach!

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While each state and region features different qualities associated with that coastline, the North Oregon Coast has some of the biggest and best beaches in the world. The weather and wind do not always cooperate, and the water isn’t for the faint-hearted with ocean temperatures averaging 55 degrees, but the beaches are pristine and perfect for just about everyone.

That is, perfect for everyone except those experiencing physical disabilities.

An Eye-Opening Proposition
In early 2017, a citizen approached me with an idea that would change that assumption. Randy Anderson is a local business owner and advocate for individuals with physical disabilities. He wanted to bring free beach wheelchairs to Seaside, and wanted my agency to host them. This was a very exciting development!

The City of Seaside Visitors Bureau estimates more than a million people visit each year. Seaside is one of the premier destinations in all the Pacific Northwest and attracts many from the greater Portland and Seattle metro areas. Surely, there are many in that number who experience physical disabilities. But Anderson recognized that those individuals didn’t have the opportunity to experience all of what the beach has to offer. They had never felt the sand between their toes, the rush of a cold wave, or the thrill of sitting around a beach bonfire roasting marshmallows.

Working with a local business, Anderson helped secure the donation of two beach wheelchairs that would soon become available to the general public and our many visitors for free use. Working together with the local business, Wheel Fun Rentals, and Anderson, the agency was able to form a partnership and transfer ownership of the chairs to the Sunset Empire Park & Recreation District. The chair inventory was later bolstered by an additional third chair, purchased brand-new by Anderson himself.

Rewarding And Heartwarming
After obtaining the chairs, the district partnered with the city and other organizations to get the word out. There was a substantial marketing push, including media attention by publications and organizations in the Portland area, where a substantial number of the visitors to Seaside reside. The results were astounding, with the district loaning out the chairs hundreds of time over the course of the summer and into the fall months.

The feedback has been incredible and, in many instances, heartwarming. Visitors and locals have been very grateful for the opportunity to experience the beach with their loved ones for the first time.

While the process has been amazing for the users of the wheelchairs, it’s also been important for staff members who work directly with users to reserve the chairs and make sure the schedules match to get as many people using the chairs as possible. When the chairs are returned, they are often accompanied by a fair amount of sand, so staff members need to work quickly to return the chairs to an appropriate condition for the next user.

Due to the number of requests and interest in this project, revisions have been made to the agency’s website and automated phone system to provide accurate information on the wheelchairs. Similar rental programs have popped up elsewhere along the coast, in nearby Gearhart, Cannon Beach, and Manzanita.

Breaking Barriers
While the program was extremely successful in its first year, the agency quickly recognized the limitations. One of the most significant barriers for users of the beach wheelchairs was the agency’s physical location, where the facilities are roughly a half mile from the actual beach, and the beach wheelchairs are not designed for non-beach use. It became a significant barrier for some users who could not transport the chairs to the actual beach.

For that reason, district staff identified grant opportunities to relocate the beach wheelchairs closer, and we recently were the recipients of a grant from the Oregon Coast Visitors Association to move the chairs! Through a partnership with the city, Anderson, and several other local and giving contractors, we are hoping to have that remote location up and running to loan the chairs beginning in spring 2019.

While we can earnestly state that our participation in this program has been beneficial, the partnership we formed with a localbusiness and the citizens has been incredibly rewarding and truly epitomizes what agencies like ours are designed for.

Skyler Archibald is the Executive Director of the Sunset Empire Park & Recreation District, located in Seaside, Oregon. Reach him at sarchibald@sunsetempire.com.