Several parks in Anne Arundel County are not complaint with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – in other words, they’re not accessible for all.
These parks were purchased with funds from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Program Open Space which requires them to be accessible for all.
The Program Open Space manual states, “The project shall be open to entry and use by all persons, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and shall be operated in compliance with the terms and intent of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, P.L. 88-354 (1964) and its amendments, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, P.L. 101-336 and its amendments, and Article 49B, Sections 14 to 18, (Discrimination in Employment) of the Annotated Code of Maryland (1998 Replacement Volume and its amendments) … If the project is rendered unusable for any reason whatsoever, the Applicant shall immediately notify DNR of said conditions. The Applicant, at its own expense, shall repair the project, taking any action necessary to restore use and enjoyment of the project by the public.”
This hasn’t been a year or two at some of these county parks – it’s been many years of non-compliance.
Several parks have ADA non-compliant gates that are cumbersome to open, with ADA non-compliant combination locks on short chains. The combination to these locks is provided by a non-compliant county website.
In July 2020, I asked Anne Arundel County about it.
Rick Anthony, director of Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks, emailed his response: “we never planned to keep those gates as the long-term solution.” The gates were put in place to discourage vandalism and dumping.”
Anthony continued, “we are currently in the middle of a “self assessment which the Department has hired a firm to identify where there are deficiencies in our ADA compliance county wide. When we are complete we will begin to prioritize and address these deficiencies through the Park Renovation or Capital Improvement Program.”
He said the department does have personnel that can help those that need access to the parks, although they need to have advance notice.
Anthony emailed, “Although we currently will help any who need additional assistance, we are planning to put something up on the appropriate websites and social media platforms letting the ADA community know how they can request additional assistance for entering and exiting the parks that have been challenging.”
Anthony continued, “the department will immediately be looking into making the locks and chains easier to see and use.”
As for the DNR and Program Open Space funding non-compliancy, Anthony said DNR has been understanding because of the study in progress, as well as other parks nearby that are ADA compliant.
There are other issues at these parks which likely present challenges, if not impossibilities, for those that are disabled, including water access and restrooms.
“We’re going to be making a lot of changes,” Anthony said.
After that email exchange, a county employee reached out to me for help making the locks ADA accessible. I gave suggestions, including the electronic style gate that Sandy Point State Park has.
I was told multiple times there’s no money. And that was that – no changes made to the parks.
Because several months have gone by and with the county discussing the possibility of a paddling and rowing center at Quiet Waters Park, I checked on the status of the self-assessment and why no changes were made to the parks with gates.
Jessica Leys, deputy director of Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks, responded:
“Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks recently completed an accessibility audit. The work included identifying barriers and inadequacies in our parks and facilities where the public engages in programs, services, or activities. The accessibility assessment analyzed 136 parks and 193 recreation facilities (buildings) for compliance with the federal accessibility standards, the state accessibility code, and the Title II “program access” requirement. The Department is currently preparing an implantation strategy to address the items in this report and recently requested a standalone capital project to provide funding. We are going to review each council district to ensure that each has a variety of accessible amenities. We are also in the process of creating a database that will be used to track our progress in correcting items.
Access to the park is of the most significant importance to us. In regards to the issue of the gates, the Department was faced with the challenge of securing Parks during closed hours while still maintaining access to the facilities. Most of the locations are in isolated locations where power is not available to allow for electric gates, nor do we have the manpower to unlock and lock gates. We instituted a combination system that would allow people to go online and register for the combination, and they can let themselves in. The Department is evaluating operational options to address and take immediate actions.
· A phone ahead reservation system. A person would call a number and request assistance at the gate at a set date and time. The Staff person would unlock the gate and, at the end of the day return to close it.
· Removal of the gates in their entirety until a better gate is selected.
· Install electric gates where power is available”
In my email checking on the status, I asked if the self-assessment or what is now being called “accessibility audit” would be shared with public.
Leys did not respond to that part of question. I’ve asked again and am awaiting reply.
Until changes are made at these parks, they’ll remain in violation of both the ADA and Program Open Space.
As for the paddling and rowing center at Quiet Waters Park, according to the county’s website, it’s “on hold until further notice.”