Wednesday, June 15, 2011 by Jim Casuba/News Herald:
WYANDOTTE — Not too long ago a person with physical limitations probably wouldn’t contemplate kayaking. After all, it’s a recreational activity that requires dexterity and flexibility. Perhaps the most difficult move for those with physical challenges is getting in and out of the narrow vessel. But there’s an answer to that problem and it can be found on the shores of Bishop Park. The city recently introduced what is believed to be the only adaptive kayak launch of its kind in Michigan. The launch, made possible through a public/private partnership between the city and Riverside Kayak Connection, uses a hydraulic lift system to transfer a person from a bench to his or her kayak. Although it is designed so that wheelchair users can get in kayaks, anyone can use it.
Fred Pischke, director of recreation, leisure and culture for the city, said it took about five years for the idea to come to fruition. Riverside Kayak Connection, 4016 Biddle Ave., owned by Patrick and Tiffany Van De Hey, approached the city about it and officials liked the idea. The major factors to consider would be figuring out how to pay for it and where to locate it.
The first potential site was at the foot of Pine Street, at BASF Waterfront Park. But Pischke said getting to a launch in that spot would be difficult for the physically challenged. Another location discussed was behind Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital, but that also had logistical problems. “Eventually they settled on the Bishop Park site,” Pischke said. “There’s a gate and ramp that goes down in elevation from the pier to the dock.”
What really got the ball rolling was a $30,000 Access to Recreation Grant that was acquired through the Kellogg Foundation. Anita Twardesky, public relations and marketing manager for Riverside Kayak Connection, said the company she represents applied for the grant. Twardesky serves on the board of the Michigan Recreation and Parks Association and was chairwoman of the trails and blueways committee when she became aware of the available funds through the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan.
“That grant money allowed us to come up with out-of-the-box thinking,” Twardesky said. “It had to be a cutting-edge idea, an idea that goes above and beyond mainstream recreation.” According to Pischke, once the grant money was made available, the city pledged $90,000 in Tax Increment Finance Authority funds to pay the rest of the cost. Riverside Kayak Connection employees worked with the manufacturer, EZ Dock in Caro, to build a launch that works for those in wheelchairs.
“They have a pond up there and we were able to see what worked and what didn’t work,” Twardesky said. She said Bishop Park is an ideal site because it blends in so well with other recreational facilities the city offers at the park. Twardesky also likes the fact the launch is in an inlet that allows beginners to stay out of the main portion of the Detroit River, if that’s their preference. She said some kayak launches use a roller system that runs parallel to the shores of inland lakes, but that type of launch wouldn’t work for the Detroit River. “This adaptive kayak launch with a transfer station and hydraulic lift is the only one of its kind in the state,” Twardesky said. She hopes to partner with other organizations for special events and activities at the kayak launch. Tentative plans call for offering kayak lessons and the sponsorship of a media day to help spread the word that the launch is available to everyone.