Orchard Beach is now the most wheelchair-friendly beach in New York City.
On Thursday, July 7 the supporters of the Bronx Riviera unveiled two brand-new beach wheelchairs. They will allow wheelchair-bound beachgoers to roll along the sand, right up to the water’s edge. No other beach in the city has the specialized wheelchair.
Lizbeth Gonzalez, president of Friends of Pelham Bay Park, said the idea to bring the wheelchairs to Orchard Beach came from an ongoing mission to make the park’s amenities more available.
“We realized that the common thread that brought everything together was increased access to the park,” Gonzalez said. “And we figured, why shouldn’t everybody have access to the beach on hot, sunny days?”
Friends of Pelham Bay Park and the city Department of Parks and Recreation came up with the wheelchair program during its spring 2011 meetings. Previously, any visitor to Orchard Beach who was confined to a wheelchair could only go as far as the existing walking path would take them.
The new wheelchairs are waterproof, although the Parks Department does not expect they will be allowed into the surf.
The wheelchairs’ large, wide wheels allow users to be pushed along the beach without sinking into the sand. Victor Calise, accessibility coordinator was one of the first people to take a spin in the new wheelchair.
“It handled great,” Calise said. “I loved it. I was comfortable and I liked that it reclined, so it was like having a mobile beach chair.”
Each wheelchair cost $2,000. The money was raised by Friends of Pelham Bay Park. Large donors included the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, city-wide clothing retailer V.I.M., Schuyler Hill Funeral Home, as well as individual supporters.
The money was raised in part through a golf tournament and fundraiser in March. In total, $15,500 raised, so Friends of Pelham Bay Park now has a surplus. Pelham Bay Park commissioner Marianne Anderson said the wheelchairs would be a tremendous asset and could lead to more initiatives for disabled visitors.
Anyone who wishes to use a beach wheelchair can reserve one through the park administrator’s office.