Pancake Bay Provincial Park is offering the use of two new specialized wheelchairs, which will allow more people to enjoy the three-and-a-half kilometres of beach, says the park superintendent.
The wheelchairs are a new addition to the park this year and have already been enjoyed by people with mobility challenges, said Chris Caldwell, park superintendent for Ontario Parks in the Algoma Region.
“It’s something I saw on another beach at vacation time in my travels. I thought it would be excellent tool to have here at Pancake Bay,” said Caldwell.
Beaches can be a challenge for wheelchair users, said Caldwell, because a regular wheelchair sinks right into the sand.
“We tried walkways and different things, but with the dynamics of Lake Superior it’s very challenging to have something permanent right down to the water’s edge,” said Caldwell.
The two new wheelchairs have large wheels made specifically to easily travel over the uneven sandy terrain.
“Even with the soft sand here in Pancake Bay, I was very surprised how easy they are to maneuver,” said Caldwell.
Although both wheelchairs are made to travel over the sand, only one of them is made to actually go into the water.
The DeBug Beach Wheelchair, with its fat grey wheels, is meant to be used on the beach.
“I think they are going to be a hit with the people who have mobility challenges to get down to the water’s edge,” said Caldwell.
The wheelchair user can then dip their toes in Lake Superior and enjoy the beach. Caldwell is considering the purchase of an upgrade which will add a sun umbrella to the DeBug chair.
The second device is called the Mobi-Chair Floating Beach Wheelchair, which has similar wheels as the DeBug, but adds floatation devices to allow it to go into the water.
“We insist people who take it into the water wear personal floatation devices in the event there is a tip-over, but they are very, very sturdy,” noted Caldwell.
The devices are not only intended for people who use wheelchairs, but can also be used by people who have mobility challenges and find it difficult to walk over sand.
Pancake Bay is the only provincial park in the Algoma region that currently has the chairs, and at least one person has already become a repeat user of the Mobi-Chair, said Caldwell.
“It’s exciting for us to be able to provide that opportunity to get people into the lake,” he said.
The chairs are free to use after a fully-refundable deposit is paid at the gate.
“If we have a strong will out there for people to use them, we will restrict timing but for now people can take them for the day or a half-day,” said Caldwell.