By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Beachgoers will have to wait a little longer before Sea Isle City installs those popular blue mats that save everyone from the trouble of trudging through deep sand.
Nasty weather that lashed the shore with heavy rain and gusty winds over the Memorial Day weekend has delayed the city from putting out the beach mats for the summer season.
Public Works crews must first remove excess sand that was blown on the beach pathways during the storm before the mats can be installed, city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
“Like everything else, we have to deal with the elements here,” Custer said in an interview Thursday.
Plans call for work crews to begin installing the mats in the next few days and continue for a few more weeks before all of them are in place, she noted.
“The effort continues to get them out as quickly as possible,” Custer said. “We try to put them at as many beaches as possible. We appreciate that people enjoy them. They make crossing a small stretch of beach easier.”
Sea Isle allocated $100,000 in its capital plan in 2020 to buy more beach mats. The non-slip mats look like bright blue carpet strips from a distance. They lie on top of the sand, providing an easier transition from the gravel pathways over the dunes to the beaches.
Custer estimated that Sea Isle has had the mats for about 12 years. At first, they were placed at the city’s six handicap-accessible beaches at 32nd Street, 40th Street, John F. Kennedy Boulevard, 44th Street, 63rd Street and 85th Street.
During the summer of 2018, the mats were installed at intervals of about every three blocks between 29th and 91st streets.
As the mats became even more popular with the public, Sea Isle announced plans in 2019 to put them at every one of the lifeguard-protected beaches. Ultimately, the goal is to have mats at every beach block between 29th and 92nd streets, City Business Administrator George Savastano said in 2019.
Known in Sea Isle as “mobi-mats” or “beach carpets,” they make it much easier for beachgoers – especially senior citizens and people with disabilities – to traverse the sand.
The mats do not extend the entire width across the beach. For instance, at the handicap-accessible beaches they average about 70 feet long.
Last summer, a beach replenishment project restored Sea Isle’s storm-eroded shoreline with more than 750,000 cubic yards of new sand between 28th and 52nd streets in the center of town and from 74th Street to 93rd Street in Townsends Inlet. The beaches are now wider and deeper, which may increase the need for the mats.
Sea Isle also has 16 specially designed wheelchairs to help people get to their favorite spots on the beach.
“We do our best to accommodate as many people as we can because the need is great,” Custer said.
Often used by senior citizens and people with disabilities, the beach wheelchairs are equipped with extra-large rubber tires to make them easy to push through the sand.
“It opens up opportunities for many, many people to enjoy the sand,” Custer said.
The beach wheelchairs are free for the public to use but must be reserved in advance by calling Sea Isle’s Division of Recreation at (609) 263-0050. Wheelchairs are available at the Division of Recreation office at Sea Isle’s former public school at 4501 Park Road. More details are available by visiting Beach Wheelchairs | Sea Isle City (visitsicnj.com).