Disabled community celebrates Department of Environmental Protection’s takeover of Rish Park

Disabled community celebrates Department of Environmental Protection’s takeover of Rish Park
Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 5:48 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAP NEWS/WCJB) - Wheelchair-bound Floridians have not been able to use a beachside park specifically created for them for more than three years. They have been asking for change, and now they are getting it.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities is giving control of the park to an agency with more experience running parks.

Rish Park in Gulf County has been closed for almost three years, upsetting the disabled who use it.

“And memories and opportunities have been denied for too long,” said disability advocate JR Harding.

Now, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities has announced the park is getting new management, as the organization has agreed to turn over operation to the state park system.

“It’s really important to the disable community. It’s been closed since Hurricane Michael, and APD is not an agency that deals with state parks,” said State Senator Lorrane Ausley.

The transfer to the Department of Environmental Protection is set for December first.

“So this is a great move,” said Harding.

Harding proposed to his wife at the Park. He has been the leading advocate for getting it open after Hurricane Michael.

“We’re excited about new opportunities and we’re excited about being involved,” said Harding.

The plan is to open the Rish in phases, with beach access likely coming first. Harding said time is of the essence.

“If it goes six more months with a few bells and whistles, that would be okay. Another year would be completely unacceptable,” said Harding.

When fully functional again, the park will have it all: Boating, fishing, beach going, camping and a place the disabled can call their own.

Once in the hands of the DEP, Rish Park will have the benefit of a full-time ADA compliance officer, something the Agency for Persons with Disabilities does not have.

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