Scout wants more accessible beach

Haley Gustafson | Daily Press Local Boy Scout, Joey Gavlek, shows a sample of the plastic beach mats he wants to install at the Gladstone beach as part of his Eagle Scout project at his home recently. Gavlek is raising funds for the project, which will help make Gladstone’s beach more accessible.

ESCANABA — A local Boy Scout is working on a community service project to install beach mats at the Gladstone Public Beach to make it more barrier-free. The project will help the scout earn his Eagle Scout rank.

Joey Gavlek, 16, of Escanaba, is a member of Troop 408 and has been an active scout for six years. Eagle Scout is the highest rank in scouting, and has been a goal since he joined, noted Gavlek.

“It’s going to be a fun project,” said Gavlek.

The beach mats, which are made of a hard plastic material, will make it easier for people with strollers, cane and walker users, wheelchair users, and anyone who doesn’t like to walk on hot sand.

Gavlek, who uses a wheelchair himself, noted it will also make going to and enjoying the beach in the summer much more accessible for him and people like him.

The mats will be ordered from a company out in Colorado called Invisible Structures, explained Gavlek, and will span 150 feet in length and will be 4 feet wide.

The company’s “Beachrings2 Portable Access Mat for Wheelchairs” will be placed in 10 sections across the Gladstone beach. Made with a durable plastic material, the mats will remain intact on the beach for years. Each section of the mat costs $325, added Gavlek.

Gavlek noted when he first started to get the project into gear, he approached the Gladstone Recreation Department about possibly installing the handicap accessible mats. Gavlek said the department was excited about the project and were supportive. While Gladstone has a special wheelchair for beach use, Gavlek explained there is only one and it makes it hard for others who may have to use it.

The department’s assistant director, Jason Davis, has been aiding Gavlek along the way to make sure his project becomes a reality.

Over the course of the project, Gavlek said he has approached 36 businesses to donate towards the beach mats, with five contributing. With help from Davis, Gavlek has also applied for a grant from the Hannahville Indian Community for extra funds.

Currently, Gavlek has raised a total of $2,384. The total cost of the project will be $3,395.20.

According to the Invisible Structures website, the Beachrings2 mat offer a less expensive option than a beach wheelchair, are high wear resistant, flexible in cooler temperatures, light weight and portable.

Gavlek said he hopes to have all of the money raised and the mats bought by June or July.

“It will benefit people and Gladstone’s tourism,” said Gavlek of the addition of the mats.

Scout Leader Erick Kestila said in order for Gavlek to reach his Eagle Scout status, he has to earn 21 merit badges, hold a leadership role within the troop, and perform a service project for the community or with an organization. Gavlek currently serves as the senior patrol leader for Troop 408.

The overall goal of earning the honorable scout badge is to instill how to be a good leader within the young boys, explained Kestila, adding Gavlek has done an exceptional job at showing leadership within the scouting community.

Even though Gavlek is in a wheelchair, Kestila said it doesn’t stop him from taking part in all of the activities that the scouts do, including hiking and camping. Gavlek is also an avid biker, taking part in numerous bike rides, added Kestila.

“We try to task him to do all of the stuff that normal kids would,” said Kestila. “He’s becoming more and more independent.”

As for Gavlek’s Eagle Scout project, Kestila said he thinks the teen picked well and has made tremendous efforts in making sure it gets completed on time.

“He’s doing a real good job,” said Kestila. “He picked a good one.”

Anyone interested in donating towards Gavlek’s Eagle Scout project may write out checks to Troop 408 and send it to Gavlek at 6326 Danforth Blvd. M.15 Escanaba MI, 49829.