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Disability Community Applauding Rish Park Move

Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 6:23 PM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Wheelchair-bound Floridians haven’t 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 that knows how to run a park.

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,” disability advocate JR Harding said.

Since we first reported on the story at the start of September, it has been announced the park is getting new management.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities has agreed to turn over the operation of the state park system.

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

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

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

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,” Harding said.

Those who use Rish Park have told us it’s a place where they go to feel normal, have fun, and not made to feel different by others using the park.

The plan now 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,” Harding said.

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 State Park System, 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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