News Department

DEP announces upgrades to play structures across New Jersey state parks

NEW JERSEY –As part of the Murphy Administration’s commitment to expand healthy recreation opportunities for all New Jerseyans, Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette Thursday cut the ribbon on the State Park Service’s first inclusive playground at Atsion Recreation Area.

The DEP also announced that two additional inclusive playgrounds in Middlesex and Sussex counties, and equipment replacements at 24 additional State Park Service playgrounds will be completed by the end of 2024.

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,” LaTourette said. “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state park system is part of a DEP effort known as the Enhanced Playground Initiative that will also completely replace outdated playground equipment at select state parks across New Jersey.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.”

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.

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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