Getting closer to the water’s edge on South Whidbey will soon be easier than ever, especially for the mobility impaired.
Clinton Beach Park is slated for a special makeover this summer, one that will transition the tiny shoreline facility near the ferry terminal into an American Disabilities Act (ADA)-friendly park that’s unlike any other in Island County. And if successful, proponents say it can serve as a template for other small parks throughout Puget Sound.
At least, that’s if Mel Trenor has anything to say about. He’s the brainchild behind the effort and the Langley man says has no plans to stop with Clinton.
“To be clear, this is a campaign,” Trenor said. “There isn’t one universally accessible beach in the Salish Sea. This is the pilot project.”
Trenor is a member of Island Beach Access and has been working with the port to fund signage pointing people to public shorelines. It was through that role that he realized parks everywhere seem to lack accessibility for the disabled.
The handicapped, wounded veterans, even the elderly struggle to enjoy public parks because they lack needed infrastructure, he says.
“The more I thought about it, the more upset I got,” he said.
“Frankly, it pissed me off.”
Trenor got a few mobility-impaired friends together and went down to Clinton Beach Park and asked, “What’s wrong here?” They pointed out that the park was nice but they couldn’t easily get from the parking lot to the beach due to the approximately 100-foot swath of grass and sand separating the two.
Trenor said he listened carefully and came up with a plan. He spent the next year and a half working to make it reality, successfully selling the plan to Port of South Whidbey commissioners, spearheading the permit process with Island County and drumming up a small army of volunteers. So far, several private and public entities have agreed to pitch in — one even donated thousands of dollars in consulting work.
Port leaders credit Trenor with being soul of the project.
“Mel has been incredible,” said port Executive Director Angi Mozer, citing Trenor’s seemingly inexhaustible efforts and his ability to get things done, particularly at the county.
“It hasn’t been this big engineering firm pushing through permits, it’s been just him.”
As proposed, the project calls for largely small and environmentally light improvements. The parking lot will be rearranged to increase the number of ADA stalls from one to two — they’ll be full-sized stalls that can accommodate vans — and the stalls themselves will move to the shoreline side of the lot. But the backbone of the plan is create a removable walkway of permeable mats from the parking lot to the high water mark, essentially creating a bridge over the existing barrier.
That pathway will make the best parts of the public park accessible to everyone, not just those the young or agile, Trenor said.
“They can take their wheel chairs, their crutches, whatever… they can walk over there on a stable surface without hurting an ankle or getting stuck,” he said.
The mats will be used seasonally, being rolled up and stored during the storm seasons.
Trenor’s enthusiasm for the project has been infectious. Organizations have been quick to help out, from the Greening Congregations Collaborative helping with funding to South Whidbey Fire/EMS providing muscle for the construction effort; work begins this summer and will consist almost entirely of a volunteer workforce. He convinced the port to pitch $10,000 for materials and permits, and scratched up another $2,000 in private donations.
He even got an environmental consultant to do a habitat assessment for free; the assessment was required to satisfy county and federal requirements, and the quoted price tag would have sunk the project.
“It was $4,000,” Trenor said. “She did it for free.”
That consultant was Dawn Pucci. She’s a salmon recovery coordinator for Island County’s Department of Natural Resources, but performed the assessment on her own dime through her private business, Spilsbury Data Services.
Pucci said it wasn’t a big deal, that she was able to complete the work over a weekend. And she was happy to do it.
“When I found out about the project, it hit home because I had a child in a wheel chair,” she said. “I remember wanting to get him to the beach.”
Trenor called her a “jewel.”
Port officials say they’ve been happy to sign on to the project. Commissioner Curt Gordon, president of the board, said Trenor has been a “gift” who’s worked tirelessly to better a port property and improve shoreline accessibility. And all he’s asked for in return is essential funding.
“How can you say no to that, and the fact that we’re going to have the first ADA accessible park in Island County?” Gordon said. “We’re just lucky to have Mel. He’s driving all of this.”