(Source: Duluth News Tribune)
Along the South Shore of Lake Superior there’s a sandy beach that makes the perfect place to launch a kayak and paddle — not too far — to see the famous sea caves. It’s part of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. Thousands of people go to the Meyers Beach access each year to see Lake Superior’s majesty.
But there are 45 steep steps between the parking lot and the beach, an insurmountable barrier for people with mobility issues. It exemplifies how much of America’s outdoors — beyond curb-cut sidewalks and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms — remains inaccessible to millions of people.
“I was able to participate in a great Wilderness Inquiry trip a few years ago to go out and see the sea caves in person, to paddle out there. … But for them to get me down the steps to the kayak, they had to carry me on a wooden kitchen chair,” said Janet Badura. She lives with rheumatoid arthritis and uses a wheelchair.
“Being from Wisconsin, I had been up to Ashland and Bayfield several times before. But, until a few years ago, I was never able to actually get to the waterfront and tour on the water because it wasn’t accessible for me,” Badura said. “I understand not every place is going to be accessible for me. … There are some places that can’t be because of the ecology or the landscape. But, where it’s possible, our parks should be accessible to everyone.”
A new, 500-foot ramp at Meyers Beach would allow people in wheelchairs and others with mobility issues step-free access from the parking lot to the water’s edge. The $650,000 project is still on the drawing board. But members of the Friends of the Apostle Island Lakeshore are hoping to raise $325,000 in coming months to kick-start the project. It’s expected that a National Park Service grant would be available to match the remaining $325,000.
The ramp is another part of a yearslong effort by local park officials and Friends activists to make what otherwise might be seen as a very inaccessible, wild place into an example of how to provide better access outdoors.
“It doesn’t do much good to have an accessible tour boat, or accessible kayak programs, unless you have accessible walkways and destinations for people to experience,” said Jeff Rennicke, executive director of the Bayfield-based Friends of the Apostle Islands.