Access for all

Beach-accessible wheelchair installed at Clark Lambros Beach Park

Marquette city lifeguard Jake Pantti unlocks the beach-accessible wheelchair from the lifeguard station at Clark Lambros Beach Park. The beach-accessible wheelchair is free to use and available whenever lifeguards are stationed at the beach to unlock it, officials said. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Marquette County’s shoreline boasts miles of sandy beaches, enticing many to dip their toes in on summer days.

But with around 6.8 million Americans using assistive devices for mobility, many may face challenges getting down to the water to enjoy a favorite warm-weather pastime.

However, due to efforts of the community and the city of Marquette, the Clark Lambros Beach Park along Lakeshore Boulevard now offers a beach-accessible wheelchair, allowing those with limited mobility a chance to enjoy the refreshing waters of Lake Superior.

“This opportunity means residents and visitors that otherwise have not been able to experience Lake Superior can now get all the way into the water with assistance from a helper. Breaking this barrier is huge,” Marquette Director of Community Services Jon Swenson said in an email. “Lake Superior and its rugged shorelines is one of the most magnificent recreational resources around and it defines Marquette. Closing the gap toward making it possible for all people to experience this is very exciting.”

The free, public-use wheelchair was installed at the beach July 4, after Marquette resident Margaret Brumm spearheaded a GoFundMe campaign, raising over $1,000 to purchase the device, along with life jackets, a bike lock for the wheelchair and bamboo mats to bridge the gap between the water and the wooden beach walkway at Clark Lambros Beach Park.

“The city is very grateful for the citizens’ crowdfunding initiative to make this recreational opportunity a reality,” Swenson said.

Brumm, who approached Marquette City Manager Mike Angeli about the project earlier this summer, is thankful for the support of the city, as Angeli assured Brumm that if she collected the money for the chair, purchased it and donated it to the city, it would be assembled and made available to the public right away.

The wheelchair can only be used when lifeguards are present, Brumm said, as lifeguards are needed to unlock the wheelchair, which is secured to the lifeguard stand with a bike lock.

There is no cost to use the wheelchair, Brumm said, noting the person who wants to use it should bring their own “helper” to assist them in and out of the wheelchair.

“It’s nice that the beaches are being more inclusive and there’s access for everyone now. It’s nice that they can enjoy it too,” said Sammy Borzick, a Marquette lifeguard stationed at Clark Lambros Beach Park.

Expanding accessibility at the beach for the public was inspired by Cheri Shible, a local woman who suffered a stroke several years ago and has used a wheelchair due to experiencing limited mobility since then.

Shible deeply wanted to find a way to get back into the lake that she loved — and last summer, Brumm, a member of the Marquette-area Coffee Klatch, worked with that group to spearhead a fundraiser that would help make Shible’s dream a reality.

While Brumm was hopeful the city would get mats for the Clark Lambros Beach Park’s wooden walkway to allow wheelchair access to the lake that summer, the grant the city had applied for didn’t come through, she said.

“I had to tell Cheri there would be no mats in the summer of 2018 and her response was ‘I just wanted to go into the lake and feel the sand between my toes again,'” Brumm said.

Despite the lack of mats, Brumm decided to “see what could be done to get Cheri into the lake again.”

Brumm found a beach wheelchair online and set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations to purchase it, along with a lifejacket and bamboo mats to ease the transition from the end of the wooden walkway to the lake for Shible.

Over $1,000 was raised by the community, and in August, Shible’s new beach-accessible wheelchair arrived.

Just an hour after it arrived, Shible’s husband put the chair together and the pair headed to the beach, along with Brumm and Shible’s caregiver, Christine Oaks.

At last, Shible had the chance to feel her toes in the cool water of Lake Superior.

“After I saw how happy Cheri was I was determined to get a beach wheelchair that could be kept at the beach so that people could come to the beach and use the chair while they were there,” Brumm said.

With a public beach-accessible wheelchair now installed at the park, Brumm is hopeful that many will use it and that beach-accessible wheelchairs will become more common in the area.

“My feeling is that ‘As Marquette goes, so goes the Upper Peninsula’ and long term I’m hoping the other beachfront cities in the Upper Peninsula will obtain a beach wheelchair to be used by people who use the beaches in their community,” Brumm said.

Furthermore, the city is also planning to expand accessibility at other beaches in Marquette, Swenson said.

“The Parks and Recreation Master Plan prioritizes projects that provide universal design and accessibility throughout the park system. Accessible beach mats are listed in the capital improvements section of the plan for all guarded beaches,” Swenson said. “Clark Lambros Beach Park was a natural first place to start since it already had a higher level of accessibility than any other guarded beach.”

Overall, officials and organizers are glad to see the first beach-accessible wheelchair installed in Marquette, and hope to see it get lots of use, they said.

“I think a lot of people will be using it once they know about it,” said Finn Whalen, a Marquette lifeguard stationed at Clark Lambros Beach Park.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.