By Maddy Vitale
Sea Isle City’s free beach wheelchair service continues to grow in popularity.
“I tell people to begin calling to reserve their chairs around Thanksgiving,” explained Bill Kehner Jr., an aide in the city’s Recreation Office and organizer of the beach wheelchair program. “We had at least a handful of calls from people who said, ‘You told me to call after Thanksgiving.’ We get a ton of repeat customers.”
The program is designed to help make it easier for everyone to enjoy a day at the beach by reserving one of the chairs for anywhere from one day to two weeks.
The specially designed beach wheelchairs made of PVC pipe are lightweight with giant wheels that allow easier navigation of the sand.
For the past three years, Kehner has been in charge of the program and has seen how important it is for people.
The Recreation Office has 18 beach wheelchairs to rent out, with one saved in reserve. The Sea Isle Beach Patrol also has an extra chair set aside for the program.
But Kehner cautioned, they book up fast.
“There is such a demand,” he said. “Sometimes I have to recommend businesses that rent them out if we don’t have any available.”
Although the arrival of spring is still a few days away, the end of the summer is already nearly booked with beach wheelchair reservations, Kehner noted.
“We’re in March and August is almost gone,” he said of the rental availability. “It is intense. A lot of people used to find out about us when they got down here, and it was too late. We would take their name and number in case a chair opened up. Now, people know to book early.”
People may reserve the chairs with a trip or phone call to the Recreation Office, located in the old public school at 4501 Park Road.
The free beach chair program isn’t new, and is one that neighboring communities, such as Ocean City, the Wildwoods, Avalon and Stone Harbor, also provide. But it is one that is so vital for people who want to enjoy their vacation with loved ones.
Some requests are from people who have a broken ankle or other relatively minor injury and need to use a wheelchair. Other stories Kehner hears are more emotional.
“When people call me for the chairs, I hear all sorts of stories. Some are the broken ankles and others are more heartfelt. I hear about illnesses or disabilities, and sometimes I hear more heartfelt stories like, “’My grandma or grandpop is in his last days and really wants to see the beach one last time.’ Sometimes it is hard to hear, but I do my best to get them a chair.”
Kehner noted that the beach wheelchairs do not fold up so people should either use a pickup truck or vehicle with a hatchback to transport it.
Sea Isle City Public Information Officer Katherine Custer called the beach wheelchair program wonderful.
“We receive a great deal of positive feedback from the people who utilize Sea Isle City’s Beach Wheel Chair Program,” said Custer, who is also the director of the Recreation Office. “Not only are residents and visitors appreciative of the fact that it’s a free service, moreover they are very grateful for the opportunity to spend time on the beach with a loved one who would not otherwise be able to travel onto the sand.”
Reserved beach wheelchairs may be picked up or returned seven days a week at the Recreation Office located in the old school building located at 4501 Park Road.
The beach patrol also has a courtesy chair that the public may use to transport physically disabled individuals to and from the 44th Street beach during the summer season.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day anyone who wishes to reserve a beach wheelchair can go to the Recreation Office Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. From Labor Day to Memorial Day people may pick up a chair Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Reservations for beach wheelchairs can be made by calling the Recreation Office at 609-263-1013, Monday through Friday (year-round) between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. People may also visit www.visitsicnj.com/beach.