New Cheadle pavement opens access for wheelchair users

Although Paul Aziz has lived in Lebanon for 20 years and been mayor for more than five, it wasn’t until this year he was able to have his first taste of Strawberry Festival’s strawberry shortcake following the parade.

That’s because access to the park has been difficult.

Phase one of handicap accessibility was installed at Cheadle Lake Park in May with paved, handicap parking and a paved walkway.

Photo by Scott Swanson
STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL BOARD member Jami Cate, left, and Jason Williams, city maintenance staff, discuss plans for the Strawberry Festival with Mayor Paul Aziz, who had never been able to enter the festival until this year because his wheelchair didn’t handle the gravel pathways well, which have since been paved.

“It has been my plan, since I was elected, to make sure the festival became more accessible for people with limited mobility,” Aziz said.

Several years ago, Jessica Franklin saw Aziz at an event at Cheadle Lake Park and the two began talking. She thought it was ironic the mayor is in a wheelchair and can’t access many community events, she said.

“He and I had a conversation about how hard it was to access out here, and this is where a lot of the community activities happen,” Franklin said. “Because of the gravel, you can’t push a wheelchair through the gravel very easily.”

Franklin’s son, Chase Cruse, 8, uses a wheelchair due to Wolf Hirschhorn Syndrome.

“I completely understood what she was talking about and felt really bad for her and him,” Aziz said. “Being in a wheelchair, depending on the person, gravel and pot holes and grass are all horrible and uncomfortable.”

Photo by Sarah Brown
RILEY, 11, and Chase Cruse, 8, visit the Strawberry Festival with their mom, Jessica Franklin. Chase was able to participate in the carnival this year with more ease for his mom because of the new pavement.

Many places Franklin goes to are limited for handicapped people, she said, but that doesn’t stop her.

“I want him included. I just huff it through everything,” she said. “So this is nice to be able to come to where everybody else is at and enjoy the community without feeling like I’m exhausted before we even get started.”

When Lebanon Community Foundation had control of Cheadle Lake Park, they couldn’t fund handicap improvements, but now the City of Lebanon owns the park and will be able to make it fully accessible for all people, Aziz noted.

“I worked with Jami Cate, the festival chair, City Manager Gary Marks, and Jason Williams, the parks director,” he said. “They worked hard to make it happen. Even though it was not 100 percent the way we wanted, it was a good start. Next year is going to be even better.”

The city plans to expand accessibility to the park over the next several years, he said.

“I know firsthand how important access for mobility impairments is. I have never been able to go out there myself and enjoy the festival,” Aziz said. “We were able to go out this year after the parade and it was awesome! I enjoyed official Lebanon strawberry shortcake right after it arrived from the parade.”

While there, the mayor saw other people in wheelchairs and scooters.

“Watching others navigate the nice smooth paths and enjoying the day at the fair was very emotional for me,” he said.

Although access to the festival is important, Aziz said it goes beyond just the one event.

“I want to make sure there are no barriers for anyone that wants to go to an event at Cheadle Lake Park,” he said.