Editorial l Man wants equal access to the beach | Editorials

The area’s name says it all: Nature Coast. That includes lush forests, a variety of wildlife and the Gulf of Mexico.

Most people take it for granted the easy access they have to these amenities that grace the county. But it’s not so easy for mobility-limited people like Bruce Titus.

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Titus, a 24-year-old who grew up in Citrus County, was paralyzed from the chest down in 2016 after a car struck him from behind as he rode his bicycle down Citrus Avenue in Crystal River. That left him wheelchair bound.

Although Titus is keenly adept at getting around in his wheelchair and doesn’t let the chair stop him from living his life to the fullest, the beach is still a challenge. And he loves the beach.

Titus is proactive and has a solution to the problem of rolling his chair through loose beach sand to get to the water. Beach-access mats allow a wheelchair to roll smoothly to the waterside without getting stuck in the sand. They are in use in a lot of other areas and beach resorts. And the cost of purchasing a mat is minimal — $1,500-$2,000 is what Titus estimates a Mobi-mat beach access mat would cost for use at Fort Island Gulf Beach.

The installation of an ADA-compliant beach access mat would enable people with mobility limitations to access the water and tables. Titus has a great idea and he took it to the county. Parks & Recreation said the idea wasn’t feasible at this time because of staffing and budgetary constraints. Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach likes the idea, calling it “brilliant,” and said she would like to pursue it and make it happen. The one caveat, she said, is even if a community group raises money to buy and install the mat, there is staff and storage issues. She said the mat can’t be kept out overnight because it would get stolen.

Those issues seem easy to remedy: There is already a bathhouse at the beach and staff has to maintain it and unlock the bathrooms every morning and lock them at night. Cost is comparatively minimal. Might there be storage space in the bathhouse? Might an affordable storage shed be purchased? All questions the county can consider when Titus presents his idea to commissioners.

Titus has sparked interest in one commissioner. Hopefully he can do the same with the others. His idea will benefit a lot of residents who have mobility problems and should be seriously considered by the county commission.