For people with disabilities, it’s not always easy to visit the famous sandy beaches of the Florida Panhandle’s Forgotten Coast. At William J. Rish Recreational Park on the St. Joseph Peninsula north of Cape San Blas, set across St. Joseph Bay from Port St. Joe, that’s not the case: This is a fully accessible beachfront designed especially for beachgoers with special needs.
Named after a former Florida state representative, William “Billy Joe” Rish—a champion for Floridians with disabilities—the 100-acre park includes frontage along both the Gulf of Mexico and St. Joseph Bay, although as of this writing the bayside portion, which includes an RV campground, nature trails, picnic areas, and other facilities, is temporarily closed pending funds for renovation.
Owned and operated by the Agency for Persons With Disabilities via that organization’s Sunland Center and open year-round, William J. Rish Park offers some two miles of ramps and boardwalks that link the overnight accommodations with the beach. It includes wheelchair beach access, handicapped parking, and roll-under sinks in addition to its playground, picnic sites, and bathrooms.
The accommodations comprise six dormitory-style cabins that can sleep up to 14 visitors as well as a pair of family cottages, both housing up to seven. The park also boasts a fantastic multipurpose event hall that includes a decked-out kitchen and dining spread, shuffleboard and mini-golf setups, and an Olympic-size swimming pool that, like the other park attractions, is wheelchair-accessible. Use of the event hall and the overnight cabins requires registration through the Sunland Center, and it’s a good idea to reserve well in advance for visits in the summertime, which is peak season here. There are (small) fees for both day visits and overnight stays.
The park-scape itself is lovely, with rolling scrub and dunes carpeted in sea-oats, plus of course the beach itself. The St. Joseph Peninsula here fronts an aquatic preserve, and wildlife-watching opportunities–especially in the shorebird, seabird, and waterfowl departments–are rich. You never know when you might land a glimpse of a dolphin, too…
Both the day-use and overnight facilities at William J. Rish Park are only open to Florida residents with disabilities/special needs as well as their caretakers, guardians, and/or family members. Service animals are welcome as well.
William J. Rish Park is a wonderful recreational destination only about 15 minutes from Port St. Joe: a unique ADA-accessible beachfront well set up for both day visits and overnight stays. It’s one of the best spots along the Forgotten Coast —indeed, along the Florida Panhandle as a whole—for individuals with special needs and their companions to soak up some of the region’s glorious sand and surf!
Besides contacting the Sunland Center for reservations, you can take a tour of William J. Rish Park to get a feel for whether it’ll fit your getaway plans by contacting the park’s manager at 850-227-1876.