Increasing accessibility to nature ADA kayak launch opens at Beltzville State Park
Beltzville State Park celebrated increased accessibility at one of its boat launches on Wednesday afternoon, allowing for those with disabilities to get out on the lake and enjoy everything it has to offer.
Ken Ryno, an avid kayaker who utilizes a wheelchair, said that the new launch will hopefully spur those with disabilities into exploring an activity that they may have previously written off."People who are sitting at home thinking that they can't do something like this anymore because of a knee replacement, severe arthritis, or any kind of challenge that would prevent them from getting up and down, bending, lifting a kayak, it makes it much easier for them," Ryno, a member of Good Shepherd Spinal Cord Support Group and Lehigh Valley Team River Run, said."This gives them a sense of self-being, motivating them to do more. You just have to get people out here, show them where it is. Build it, and they will come."The Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation hosted an official dedication ceremony for the new ADA boat launch, which allows those with disabilities to more easily enter a kayak and set out on the lake, at Beltzville's Preachers Camp Boat Launch in the early evening."According to Cornell University's annual Disability Status Report, 7.3 percent of Pennsylvania's population has an ambulatory disability," Foundation President Marci Mowery said. "From canoeing to kayaking and rafting, paddle sports have become increasingly popular in the disabled community in recent years."Part of the reason is their relative affordability, and the proximity of lakes like Beltzville."The launchThe structure consists of an EZ Dock Launch with an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant transfer station, along with an access trail to the launch site. The EZ Dock Launch holds kayaks in place, ensuring that kayakers can safely enter their craft without tipping over.With their vessel secured, the transfer station permits those in wheelchairs to move themselves down a short flight of steps, and then lift themselves with straps and handlebars into the watercraft."We have been working on this kayak dock for over two years now, getting the funding for it, prepping the area for it, getting the dock installed," Beltzville State Park manager Alma Holmes said. "We are really excited to have Team River Runner out here today to make the inaugural voyage off the kayak dock."It's really nice to have this, it's something that able-bodied and disabled individuals can use. We have many people in the area that can benefit from this."Holmes said the idea for the launch came about nearly two years ago, when the previous park manager was contacted by Ryno, who had used a similar launch at Leaser Lake in Lehigh County.Working with the River Runner group, the Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation secured a grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority through the Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program. BoardSafe Docks in Allentown designed and installed the structure.Regional park manager Dave Madl commended the partnerships between the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation, the Commonwealth Financing Authority, and the River Runners, marveling at the final product of their work.Put to useAfter the ceremony, members of Team River Runner began lining up on the dock, eagerly awaiting their turn to launch out and enjoy some time on the lake.Don Houck, a board member of Team River Runner and member of the Good Shepherd Spinal Cord Support Group who also uses a wheelchair, said that the success of similar projects is helping to spread the word on ADA kayak launches, and more local parks are looking into their own installations."It's awesome, it's showing that the word is spreading and more places are going to want this," he said. "It started up in Leaser Lake, now Beltzville got theirs, Nockamixon is trying to raise money for their own, Minsi Lake is starting to talk about it, so it's starting to snowball, and it's a great thing. The more that we spread the word, people aren't going to have to travel so far to be able to feel the freedom of getting out of their chair and onto a boat to enjoy the outdoors."Ryno, who has been kayaking for over 30 years, sees the launch as an equalizer of sorts, allowing everyone to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of the lake on a pleasant summer afternoon, no matter what their physical abilities or limitations.Based on the crowd at the initial launch, Beltzville should be seeing plenty of kayakers from all walks of life out on the lake."It's just really a wonderful thing, to be able to get out there and enjoy life like everybody else. When we're out there, and our chairs are back there on the dock, people look at the chairs and wonder who owns them," Ryno said. "They have no idea. When you're out on the water, you're all the same, and that's the best part of it all."