Wheelchairs welcome: Bernie’s Beach becomes Madison’s first accessible beach

Published: Jul. 2, 2021 at 10:46 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - At Bernie’s Beach, a 24-feet-long mat invites those struggling with mobility to inch closer to the water.

With the installation made several weeks ago by Madison Parks, Bernie’s Beach became the city’s first wheelchair-accessible beach.

Martha Siravo, who lost her ability to walk after a car accident in 2002, described the challenges of visiting a park that is not accessible. “It’s frustrating, and it makes you not feel welcome,” she said. Her daughter also relies on a leg brace and cane to move.

“Having an accessible place and feeling included is more than being able to do everything that everybody else is doing. It’s about having the space to appreciate the things around you,” she said.

According to the parks division, the beach mat project began with a thousand dollar donation from a community member to the Madison Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for city parks and beaches. A Madison park ranger then came up with the idea to improve accessibility at Bernie’s Beach and consulted Siravo on the project.

“It really took some creative thinking and research and knowledge and listening closely to needs of the community,” Eric Knepp, superintendent of the parks division, said. He explained, beaches typically pose big engineering problems.

Stephanie Franklin, the foundation’s executive director, said there will be an addition to the platform at Bernie’s Beach, resulting in a project that costs roughly two thousand dollars.

“That kind of work leads to what is really a reasonably priced, not a resource-incentive thing, to add inclusion and access. We look forward to doing this in more of our beaches across the system,” Knepp said.

Franklin said, “Our organization is planning, with or without a gift, to put money towards two or three beaches a year to make all 12 [city beaches] accessible.”

She also shared exclusively with NBC15 that the foundation will start an endowment to increase accessibility across the parks system. To start, the group announced it has received $100,000 from the Pleasant Rowland Foundation.

In addition to the beaches, the foundation said it is currently fundraising to add five fully accessible playgrounds. The group’s fundraising has already enabled Madison Parks to build two—at Brittingham and Elver Parks.

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