City testing mats to improve beach access

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  The city is testing out mats like this PathMat and the Mobi-Mat, not shown, at St. James Place and other beach entrances to improve access for small children, the elderly and the disabled. The city is testing out mats like this PathMat and the Mobi-Mat, not shown, at St. James Place and other beach entrances to improve access for small children, the elderly and the disabled.

OCEAN CITY — Public works crews have been busy preparing the city for the onslaught of visitors when schools let out. At St. James Place, by the north end entrance to the boardwalk, a “PathMat” is now in use. To make the trek across the dunes a little easier, the city is testing out the new product and officials would like your input.

Placed at the end of a 50-foot ribbon of concrete, the green latex mat assists senior citizens, small children and those living with disabilities across the sand dunes.

Mike Rossbach, the city’s director of public works, said the mats are flexible, hardwearing and long lasting, but unlike concrete, they are not permanent. While nailed down for stability, they can be easily moved.  The “honeycomb” mats are non-slip in any weather.

“It’s a demonstration mat, we’re trying to get a feel from people who live in town, from our visitors, to see what people think about them,” he said. “That’s a high exposure spot there, by the boardwalk, we’re looking for feedback. They’re great for people with mobility issues.  We are hopeful that people will like them.”

The PathMat will soon be moved to Brighton Place to see how folks at that beach like it. A similar product, a “Mobi-Mat,” will take its place at St. James Place.

“We want to give both products some exposure, see what people think,” Rossbach said.

Over the past several years, public works crews have been on a mission to make life a little bit easier for folks who have trouble accessing the beach.

At some street ends, the city has placed hard-packed gravel to help beachgoers. In other areas, they have built ramps to assist those in wheelchairs.

“So we try to create and design something that will work in that particular area,” Rossbach said. “We have to look at the situation at each street end.”

Between 15th and 20th streets, the city built eight ramps over the past several years.

“This way, people can come up the ramp to the boardwalk, walk across and go down another ramp. You can’t get a wheelchair up and down the steps and that made it very difficult for people,” Rossbach said.

He said the city tried placing planks at St. James Place and other beaches, but they are soon covered with sand. Planks shift easily, creating an uneven surface, he said.

“The mat is the best solution,” he said.

Last August, St. James Place was the sight of a Mobi-Mat demonstration.

“We had a lot of people there when we put it down; everyone was real excited about it,” Rossbach said.

Hurricane Irene blew through town and the mats quickly disappeared.

Rossbach said the city is considering the mats in other areas, too.

“The mats work very well. It’s one more thing we could do to improve access,” he said. “They roll up, you put them down for the summer and then you can take them out. It creates a stable surface; it really helps families with small children and people in wheelchairs.”

“It’s an on-going project, every year we try to make more improvements,” he said. “We think the PathMats are going to be very popular.”

City Business Administrator Mike Dattilo said securing funding for beach replenishment has become an extremely competitive process and enhancing beach access could give the city an edge in the process. 
Dattilo said the city is considering grant funding for beach mats.

“We're looking into grant money; we'd like to use them on all the beaches if possible,” he said.


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