County park probe sought for possible access violations

No passage to restroom for disabled

Published in the Asbury Park Press 08/18/05

Two state legislators representing Monmouth County have asked a state agency to examine all parks within the Monmouth County Park System for possible violations of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

"We learned today that handicapped individuals visiting Thompson Park in Lincroft (Middletown) do not have access to restroom facilities there on weekends," Assemblymen Michael J. Panter and Robert L. Morgan, both D-Monmouth, wrote in a letter to Charles Richman, the acting director of the Department of Community Affairs. "We request (the DCA) perform an assessment of all Monmouth County parks to ensure there are no violations" of the ADA.

The Monmouth County Park System covers more than 14,000 acres and includes 29 parks, a marina, a skate park, a farm and seven golf courses.

E.J. Miranda, a spokesman for the DCA, said acting commissioner Richman has not seen the letter, adding, "When we get it, we will review it."

Monmouth County Park System officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The assemblymen said they wrote the letter after reading a story Wednesday in the Asbury Park Press, which reported that Monmouth County park officials lock the front entrance to the Visitor Center in Thompson Park on weekends but keep a back door open for access to restrooms.

But the front entrance is the only one with a ramp that provides access for people with disabilities. The back door is at the top of an eight-step stairway, making it inaccessible to many people with disabilities.

The Visitor Center, which houses the offices of park employees on the second floor, recently underwent a $3.6 million renovation.

"It's imperative that all residents of Monmouth County have equal access to our parks and public buildings, regardless of their limitations," Morgan said Wednesday.

Eric Holden, a spokesman for the Justice Department, which enforces ADA regulations, said the weekend access arrangement at the Visitor Center is likely a violation of federal law.

He said the county cannot open the back door of the facility on weekends which are the busiest days in summer "yet close the only accessible entrance" to the building without violating the ADA standards.

County officials have pointed out that another restroom in the park, located in the Craft Center, is accessible to people with disabilities.