Story of Impact: Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on April 30, 2018 # Quality of Life

When the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission (CCPRC) began hosting Wheel to Surf, a bi-annual adaptive surfing event, two years ago, they discovered an unmet need.

A unique South Carolina park and recreation agency, CCPRC owns three of the only public beach parks in Charleston County including Folly Beach County Park which hosts the surf event. While the Wheel to Surf was a big success, nearly doubling in size each year to more than 35 surfers, it presented some logistical challenges.

“At the time, we used a temporary roll-out mat system to provide access at Folly Beach County Park. The mat would bunch under some wheelchair tires making it difficult to navigate,” said Susie Goudy, CCPRC’s assistant director of recreation. “Our wonderful partner organizations would bring the equipment and experts for an amazing experience but participants had trouble accessing the beach.”

Several years prior, Hurricane Irene had caused severe erosion and Folly Beach County Park was forced to close for safety reasons. Many feared the beach would never be able to be opened again. Thanks to a successful re-nourishment project, the park reopened in the summer of 2014 with very limited portable facilities.

“Part of what was lost and not rebuilt were the boardwalks that provided an accessible ramp onto the beach,” said Goudy. “Since 2011, beach access hasn’t been great for anyone, but it is particularly difficult for people with mobility challenges. While we now have the approval to rebuild the destroyed structures in the coming years, it is still a long way off for someone with mobility challenges to wait to use the beach.”

One of CCPRC’s partners in the surf event told Goudy about a Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant their organization received to purchase adaptive equipment. In 2017, Goudy applied for a Quality of Life grant to purchase a semi-permanent plastic decking material. The material would be used to create a pathway that would make the beach independently accessible on a daily basis.

“Once we got the grant, everyone was so excited that we were able to find some money in the CCPRC budget to add a wooden deck structure that would enable better access to other park amenities,” said Goudy. “We hope this project will serve as a test run for our other facilities where we plan to look at improving access in the future.”

It is estimated that more than 27,000 people are living with a disability in Charleston County. With the mats in place during the entire March to October beach season, any one with physical limitations can access the beach at any time.

“The major goal of this project is to increase independence for people living with paralysis and related mobility impairments by allowing easier access to a safe beach area with lifeguards,” said Goudy. “Living in Charleston, a large portion of the community enjoys spending time on the beach, and providing an accessible path onto the beach will promote inclusion for those with disabilities.”

In March, CCPRC hosted an opening event at Folly Beach County Park and many local community members came out to see the new mats in place, including patients from a local rehab facility.

“Access to the beach increases relaxation, socialization and participation in recreational activities,” said Goudy. “With the improved access, we hope to offer more adaptive recreation programs on the beach, like nature programs and other activities. We also hope this project will grow relationships and partnerships with local organizations that have similar programs and goals. None of this would be possible without the Reeve Foundation’s support.”