Saco Recreation counselor Kaylee Blake is greeted by campers as she and Saco Mayor Marston Lovell head down to Bayview Beach on a newly installed beach mat on Wednesday.
LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

SACO – Going to the beach has always been a challenge for Kaylee Blake.

The 20-year-old Saco resident was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was two years old, and she uses a wheelchair to get around. Wheelchairs are difficult to navigate at the beach – the ground is uneven, the sand shifts and wheels can get stuck.

Blake, a recreational counselor with the Saco Parks and Recreation Department, has had to forgo trips to the beach with her campers as well as beach excursions with family and friends.

But on Wednesday, Blake was able to go to Bayview Beach thanks to a new beach accessibility mat secured through an AARP Community Challenge Grant. The mat runs straight down from the parking lot at Bayview Beach to the high water mark, and then turns left for a stretch, providing a smoother surface for those using wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

Surrounded by her campers, Blake was all smiles as she sat in her motorized wheelchair on the beach during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the recently installed mat.

“This is amazing,” she said. “I am very grateful.”

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The mats are tear-resistant, nonslip, durable and will serve the city’s needs for years to come, said Age Friendly Saco member Ron Michaud.

“The gift from nature that we call the beach is meant for all of us to connect with and enjoy. Today, we’re making that connection possible for many who have missed out on that opportunity for years,” he said.

Age Friendly Saco, a group that promotes active aging and strives to make Saco a better place to live for all ages, was one of six winners in Maine of the AARP Community Challenge Grant. Nationwide, 129 grants were awarded from a pool of more than 1,600 applicants.

“This is phenomenal,” said Saco Parks and Recreation Director Ryan Sommer. Thanks to a donation from the Rotary Club of Saco Bay, the Parks and Recreation Department will soon have a beach wheelchair and walker that it will lend out.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected].

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