The new inclusive playground at Atsion Recreation Area, within Wharton State Forest in Burlington County, has solid rubber surfacing and equipment that will enhance the playground experience for people of all abilities, offering the greatest level of access for those with a wide range of special needs. Inclusive playgrounds also will be constructed by the end of 2024 at Cheesequake State Park in Middlesex County and Wawayanda State Park in Sussex County, ensuring the public has an inclusive playground in each region of the state park system.
“Residents in every community deserve safe and quality opportunities to enjoy healthy and restorative outdoor recreational activities,” said Commissioner LaTourette. “These important upgrades, which are part of the DEP’s Enhanced Playground Initiative, exemplify the Murphy Administration’s commitment to making this goal a reality. Children of all abilities will soon be able to enjoy the outdoors while using state-of-the-art playgrounds across New Jersey.”
Adding inclusive playgrounds in each region of the state park system is part of a DEP effort known as the Enhanced Playground Initiative that will also completely replace outdated playground equipment at select state parks across New Jersey. To date, the State Park Service has upgraded nine existing playgrounds in the southern region of the state with new and updated structures to enhance inclusivity. The replacements occurred at playgrounds in Atsion Recreation Area and Bass River State Forest in Burlington County, Belleplain State Forest in Cape May County and Parvin State Park in Salem County.
The Atsion Recreation Area inclusive playground and the two to be installed at Cheesequake and Wawayanda state parks are tailored to individuals with physical disabilities and include features to enhance the playground experience for those with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Ground-level activities that are part of the play structure include musical instruments to further auditory and cognitive stimulation and hand cyclers to promote upper body development. Each of the three inclusive playgrounds also will have adaptive swings for those unable to use a belt swing and slide transfer decks for a more comfortable transfer from a mobility device onto a slide.
"In 2023, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Green Acres have focused on projects to advance inclusive and accessible outdoor recreation opportunities, one of which is inclusive playground equipment,” said Sean Holland, Nature and Disability Advocate for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “With these improvements, the state is paving the way toward a new and improved sense of inclusion and accessibility to the disabled community. Now, those seeking opportunities for outdoor recreation and shared experiences with friends and family will have the chance to have fun in the sun together.”
“I am thrilled that even more children will be able to play and create memories at the Atsion park that so many families will continue to visit thanks to this new playground,” said Rep. Andy Kim. “It is important we continue to take steps like this to make our New Jersey neighborhoods more inclusive to families so everyone can thrive and feel at home. This is such a wonderful example of how federal grant funding can help deliver transformational local change and make more of our community spaces welcoming, safe, and happy places for everyone.”
“I’d like to thank the State and Department of Environmental Protection for funding this inclusive Atsion Recreation Area project,” said Sen. Jean Stanfield. “This lake and park draw a diverse crowd from the Pinelands to the shore. It’s beloved by the local community, and it will now be able to be enjoyed by even more people.”
An additional 24 playgrounds will be completely replaced by the end of 2024. The new play structures will have at least one feature found at a fully inclusive playground as well as climbing walls, corkscrew slides and new swings. The replacement playgrounds are planned in these locations:
Central Region (13 playgrounds):
- Hunterdon County: Round Valley Recreation Area, Spruce Run Recreation Area and Voorhees State Park
- Mercer County: Washington Crossing State Park
- Middlesex County: Cheesequake State Park
- Monmouth County: Allaire State Park and Monmouth Battlefield State Park
Northern Region (11 playgrounds):
- Passaic County: Ringwood State Park
- Sussex County: High Point State Park & New Jersey Veterans’ Memorial, Hopatcong State Park, Stokes State Forest and Swartswood State Park
- Warren County: Jenny Jump State Forest, Stephens State Park and Worthington State Forest
Since the State Park Service has completed playgrounds in the southern region, the next round of playground replacements will be in the central region, before moving to the northern region. Specific equipment replacement timeframes are unavailable.
“The State Park Service is working hard to make capital improvements throughout the park system,” said John Cecil, Assistant Commissioner for State Parks, Forests & Historic Sites. “These new playgrounds provide families with excellent opportunities to exercise, participate in healthy activities and spend quality time together. We are especially proud of the regional inclusive playground component of this initiative, which is carefully designed to promote play among those with differing needs and abilities.”
Earlier this year, the Murphy Administration announced nearly $100 million in proposed investments in projects through the DEP’s Green Acres Program to develop or update parks and preserve open space, including a new initiative to fund construction of inclusive playgrounds for differently abled children. That recommendation included $7.4 million to counties for development of Completely Inclusive Playgrounds as part of Jake’s Law.
The new playgrounds complement DEP’s Outside, Together! initiative. Outside Together! works to elevate outdoor recreation and planning efforts to, among other goals, expand high-quality open space opportunities to everyone and advance equity and environmental justice through outdoor recreation.
“Outside, Together!, an important piece of the state’s planning process to enhance parks, was launched in 2022 to ensure investments in our open space capital improve the quality of life for all New Jersey residents regardless of income, race, ethnicity, color, ability or national origin,” said Elizabeth Dragon, Assistant Commissioner for Community Investment and Economic Revitalization. “These new playgrounds further the goal of improving the number of accessible and inclusive outdoor recreation opportunities that meet the needs of communities throughout the state.”
Completion of all playground replacements and construction of the three new inclusive playgrounds will cost $4.1 million. Funding comes from Corporate Business Tax revenues through the Preserve New Jersey Act, which is administered by the DEP and matched by a 50 percent federal Land and Water Conservation Fund recreation grant.
To learn more about New Jersey’s Parks, Forests & Historic Sites, visit www.njparksandforests.org/
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