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Handicap beach-access mat on Pawleys Island provides many benefits

Mike Willis is a big fan of the beach, and now his wife, Beverly, can roll his beach wheelchair across the dunes on Pawleys Island so he can take in the scenery, feel the ocean breeze, and listen to the relaxing sound of the waves.

That is thanks to the Town of Pawleys Island replacing a wooden walkway on First Street damaged by Hurricane Ian in 2022 with a handicap beach-access mat called a Mobi-Mat.

Mike and Beverly Willis are happy with the new handicap beach-access mat on First Street in Pawleys Island. (Photo by Clayton Stairs/Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce)

“I love the beach,” Mike said. “To be able to go out and experience the wind blowing, the sun, and everything. I love it.”

Beverly has been coming to Pawleys Island with her family her whole life. Her parents, Sumter and Beverly Moore, own a house on Pierce Street, a block away from the First Street beach access. She and Mike live in Aiken and come to Pawleys Island as often as they can.

“We are very happy with this beach access mat,” Beverly said. “It is so nice to know that it is guaranteed that he can get on the beach.”

The Town of Pawleys Island purchased the Mobi-Mat with Federal Emergency Management Agency public assistance funds. Town Administrator Daniel Newquist said the town is pleased to be able to provide increased accessibility to the beach for those who have limited mobility.

Mike Willis says he loves the beach and enjoys taking in the scenery, feeling the ocean breeze, and listening to the soothing sound of the waves. (Photo by Clayton Stairs/Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce)

“We’ll evaluate the benefits of this Mobi-Mat,” he said. “We will strongly consider them at other suitable beach access sites in the future.”

The town did offer a beach wheelchair with large tires for rent on the island, but, unfortunately, that wheelchair was also damaged beyond repair during Hurricane Ian. Newquist said he is looking into acquiring another one.

“We are exploring replacement alternatives and currently aim to resume that service in the summer of 2024,” he said.

Newquist said that the Mobi-Mat also has several other benefits: it improves emergency beach access for Pawleys Island Police and Midway Fire and Rescue, it provides less debris hazards in storms and hurricanes, and the cost for the mat is much less than replacing a wooden walkway.

Newquist said emergency vehicles were unable to traverse the wooden walkway previously on First Street, so the only beach access point for emergencies was on the far north end of the island. Police Chief Michael Fanning said that was sometimes an issue.

“The inability to cross over at this location added a few minutes to our response time,” Fanning said. “The majority of the time it would not make a difference, but in (some situations) it could make all the difference in the world.”

Mike and Beverly take in the view on Pawleys Island beach. (Photo by Clayton Stairs/Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce)

Newquist said the permit for the Mobi-Mat requires the town to remove it and store it offsite during a storm event. This eliminates any risk of losing the mat.

“From our initial experience, this should be manageable and only take about 30-45 minutes,” he said. “The cost to replace the wooden walkway far exceeds this alternative.”

Fanning agreed that the removal of the mat provides cost savings for the town.

“I believe the wooden structure at First Street has been replaced three or four times since I started in 2007,” he said. “I cannot tell you the exact replacement cost over the years, but the mat can be rolled up and secured during storm events saving the town a good bit of money and down time.”

By Clayton Stairs / tourism manager for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce