CANNON BEACH — Cannon Beach will soon join the small but growing number of communities on the Oregon Coast that offer beach accessible wheelchairs.
It’s an idea that has been in the works for several years. The Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Haystack Rock Awareness Program joined forces to purchase the first beach accessible wheelchair, which are chairs with 4- to 5-inch-wide tires that ride on top of sand.
The goal is to eventually have two wheelchairs at Tolovana State Park and two at the Gower Street beach entrances available to the public to check out for free. The city will follow Manzanita and Seaside as the third on the coast to provide any type of beach wheelchair, and the second to provide them for free as a public service.
Pooka Rice, the outreach coordinator for the Haystack Rock Awareness Program, said the group got involved earlier this year to help write grants and facilitate a program. The group is at the center of many school field trips and educational programs, and Rice said that she wanted to make sure anyone who wanted to participate in these activities could have access.
“There is a hugely underserved population,” Rice said. “I am a caregiver for disabled people myself. It is so important this program exists so kids (with disabilities) can be included.”
Travel Oregon Chairman Ryan Snyder, who was part of the initial push two years ago, said after developing Cannon Beach’s program that he hopes to work with Travel Oregon to make beach wheelchair access a coastwide reality.
“Today is Cannon Beach. But this is a topic I plan to bring up at the Travel Oregon level. Regardless of mobility, you should be able to experience the Oregon Coast line.”
Serving a need
Manzanita, a town south of Cannon Beach, has had three beach wheelchairs available for use for more than 10 years. The outreach was provided by a local business before the owner retired and donated the wheelchairs to the city, which now operates the service from the Visitors Center.
Dan Haag, the coordinator of the Visitors Center, said the center receives numerous calls and emails asking about beach wheelchairs.
“If we had 100 chairs I don’t think it would be enough,” Haag said.
The city, he said, plans to look into investing in one or two more chairs. He said having a city next door provide similar access will be invaluable.
“I’m excited Cannon Beach is on board. I hope more city entities get at least one or two, because that makes a difference in a lot of lives,” Haag said. “It means everyone from kids with a broken foot to grandma and grandpa can go to the beach.”
Court Carrier, the executive director of the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber frequently receives requests for wheelchairs, as well.
“We’re anxiously moving ahead on this,” he said. “It’s so important.”
Making it happen
Passion for the wheelchair project has been around for years. Last year, the chamber and others in the community came to the City Council for support, Carrier said.
The first wheelchair was purchased with donations from the chamber, Snyder and other local contributors. But with each wheelchair costing about $2,500, significant fundraising from donations, grants and corporate sponsors will be needed to pay for three more chairs and the installation of the sheds where they will be stored, Rice said.
The vision is to build code-protected storage sheds where wheelchair users can check out beach wheelchairs while safely storing their own, Rice said. Until money is raised for the sheds, however, users will be able to check out wheelchairs starting in October from the Cannon Beach Police Department.
“Our aging population affects a lot of us. People haven’t been as vocal as we need to be for those who are mobility impaired,” Rice said. “Cannon Beach is looking toward changing that so everyone can access the beach. Our beaches are already free to the public — let’s make sure it is free for everyone.”