Most people take for granted the ease of a beach day. For many, it’s effortless to stroll the shoreline or bulk up one’s seashell collection. However, not everyone has the ability to bask in the benefits of life in a traditional oceanfront community. For those who must use wheelchairs, a day of sand and surf can mean a day of spinning one’s wheels on a beach’s soft shores–not the idyllic, lazy day that others might imagine.
When Virginia Beach, Va., native Billy Almond (landscape architecture ’78) recognized the problem, he decided to take initiative in the design and construction of America’s first handicapped-accessible beach playground, JT’s Grommet Island Beach Park and Playground For EveryBODY, on Virginia Beach’s oceanfront.
The inspiration spawned from Josh Thompson, a local boy diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2006. At that time, beach inaccessibility prevented him from enjoying days by the shore with his family.
Almond watched on television as Josh’s father, Bruce Thompson, pitched the idea for a fully accessible beach park to the city council. “I’ve known Bruce for the better part of my life,” Almond said. “When I saw him making a proclamation for Josh, I immediately texted him, ‘We’ll do it.'” The park opened on May 22.
“It’s truly the highlight of my career to be involved in something like this,” said Almond, vice president and managing principal of WPL Site Design, the landscape architecture firm that designed the park. “It feels so good to give back to the oceanfront community where I was born and raised.”
Virginia Beach isn’t the only community where Almond shows his support and appreciation. He chaired the Virginia Tech Department of Landscape Architecture Advisory Board for 20 years and recently became the first landscape architect on the advisory board of the School of Architecture + Design.
Spotlight on Impact Hokies help create fully accessible beach park
Meaghan Hinder (communication ’10) is an intern with Virginia Tech Magazine.