Waukegan is planning improvements to make the beach more accessible

Visitors to Waukegan Beach next summer will be able to enter the water from a new concrete surface on rubber mats, making it easier for those with mobility issues or those who prefer a surface with less drag than sand.

The accessible mats are one of several elements of a $200,000 renovation project aimed at making the beach accessible to people who couldn’t use it before, or those who want a less stressful time there.

The Waukegan City Council approved the overall project in August and unanimously approved a $91,000 contract to install a concrete slab next to the beach driveway that will allow people to use the beach area with a minimum of walking.

Along with the accessibility mats, Lisa May, the city’s lakefront coordinator, said the project will include a large, level, conveniently located concrete expanse of amenities where people can enjoy proximity to the beach with minimal effort.

“We want to make the beach a better place for people with mobility problems,” May said. “That will also be helpful for older people. There will be a ramp for wheelchairs and strollers.”

Mayor Ann Taylor said the more accessible beach will bring additional people to Waukegan and residents who have found it difficult to use the city’s lakefront when the season opens on Memorial Day.

“It will make our beach more desirable,” she said. “There will be more opportunities to enjoy the beach. It will also be more accessible to older people who want to be near water and previously found it difficult.”

May said the pad will include a shaded area with coverage similar to the Stiner Pavilion, with places for people to sit and enjoy the beach just yards from where they exit a vehicle.

“The concrete slab will also provide elderly residents and those with limited mobility with a nice place to be closer to the beach without having to traverse the park or grass,” she said. “You can drive up, be dropped off and be there. You can dine in the pad.”

While final plans for the pad are still under review, May said there will be an area for people to sit with benches and a stone seating wall. Wheelchair-accessible picnic tables are one option. Bollards will be installed to ensure vehicles do not enter the area.

At one end of the pad is a ramp that connects to the mobility mats and allows beachgoers to get to shore. May said the mats would extend into the water to make it easier for people to start swimming.

“The mats go into the water,” she said. “We have a gentleman with multiple sclerosis who swims all over the beaches. His goal is to install mobility mats along the lakefront from Chicago to Kenosha.”

May said concrete work would begin soon and hopefully be completed “before the snow flies”. The remainder of the effort is planned for next year, with a goal of completing before or shortly after Memorial Day. Although the season starts at the end of May, the beach is open 365 days a year.

While many beaches along Lake Michigan north of Chicago are primarily reserved for residents of those cities, May said Waukegan Beach is open to everyone. During the summer, non-residents must pay a $10 parking fee on weekends and holidays.

Of the total cost of $200,000, Taylor said $106,000 came from federal funds through a community development block grant.

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