Rish Park, with new funding, can become a national model | Opinion

Gordon Palmer, JR Harding and Max Lee

Rish Park, which has been closed for the last several years, was created with maximum accessibility in mind.

Rish Park has $2 million in the state budget. The Friends of Rish Park and the nationally recognized Family Network on Disabilities would like to recognize and express our profound appreciation to House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Senate President Wilton Simpson and Gov. Ron DeSantis for their leadership.

Florida is now in a unique position to become a national model of outdoor accessibility and leisure recreation for persons with disabilities. This money is a catalyst for meaningful change at Rish Park and provides an opportunity to re-imagine what outdoor access could be for persons with disabilities and their families.

The William J. Rish Recreational Park, located at Cape San Blas, was light-years ahead of its time when it was originally envisioned by the late Rep. Billy Joe Rish and the Florida Legislature in the 1970s. The park’s mission to provide a barrier-free outdoor recreational experience for individuals with disabilities and their families has never been maximized.

Hurricane Michael had a devastating effect on the aging infrastructure within Rish Park. As a result, Rish has been closed for three consecutive Memorial Day weekends, has no designated re-open date, and persons with disabilities and their families are being denied equal access to the outdoors.

With this stated legislative priority, a more accessible vision can be realized. While the Florida Park System has done a great job removing barriers and building inclusive activities through our 175 parks, Rish Park was not one of their sites.

With these new dollars, and the continued support of DeSantis, Sprowls and Simpson, we can follow in the footsteps of the Florida Park System by engaging the community, learning about its needs and wants, and build that national model that provides year-round outdoor accessible activities for persons with disabilities and their families. Rish Park should maintain its unique mission but needs to surpass minimal accessibility standards to better fulfill its niche mission.

Friends of Rish Park and Family Network on Disabilities stand ready to assist any way we can. It is our hope that Rish Park would not be closed for a third consecutive 4th of July season. Many eagerly await the chance to reclaim a barrier-free beach experience as quickly as possible.

We would like to express our profound appreciation for this investment and future investments in Rish Park as it becomes a national brand in outdoor accessibility.

Re-imagining the park starts with opening it now: a destination with accessible nature trails, multipurpose courts, more family cabins and inclusive activities that opens previously closed doors. We cannot only fulfill the original intent, but we can exceed the expectations that William J. Rish and the state of Florida always envisioned.

Thank you, Governor and legislators, for this reinvestment. It means a lot to be valued.

Gordon Palmer is an attorney who recently retired after working for more than 30 years for the state of Florida. He has been a quadriplegic for more than 40 years and enjoys going to the beach and other outdoor activities. 

Gordon Palmer

JR Harding is a well-known ADA advocate, author and FSU faculty member. As a quadriplegic for over 38 years, he enjoys swimming, nature trails, fishing, scuba diving, and more. Visit jrharding.com.

JR Harding

Max Lee is president of Koogler and Associates, Inc. and a member of the Wheelchair Highwaymen. He is a wheelchair user and enjoys outdoor activities.

Max Lee


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