DEEP making changes to state park system - WFSB 3 Connecticut

DEEP making changes to state park system

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Crowds rush to Hammonasset Beach State Park  (WFSB) Crowds rush to Hammonasset Beach State Park (WFSB)

The state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) said it will be taking steps to reduce operating expenses at state parks.

Included in the plan, after the July 4 holiday weekend, the department will be closing three campgrounds in the state—Devil’s Hopyard in East Haddam, Salt Rock in Baltic, and Greens Falls in Voluntown.

All other state park and forest campgrounds will close after Labor Day, with the exception of Hammonasset Beach and Rocky Neck State Park.

“Our plan is designed to reduce expenses while providing the highest quality outdoor recreation opportunities for the public and ensuring public safety,” said DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee.  “By carefully analyzing how and when the public uses our state park system we will achieve the savings we need while keeping much of what we offer at our 109 parks open and available to the public.”

Officials said the plan will eliminate about $1.8 million from the cost of operating the state park system.

"We will begin to roll out adjustments in our days and hours of operations and in services soon after July 4.  We will also continue our analysis of park operations to identify the potential for more savings – and expect to take additional cost-cutting steps in the spring of 2017,” Klee said.

There will also be adjustments to the state beaches, like lifeguards at the shoreline parks will be scheduled five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, when the beaches are the most crowded.

State Park Beaches

All State Park beaches will remain open for the public to enjoy. There will be adjustments in the days, beaches, or areas of the beaches, staffed by lifeguards to focus on the days and locations with the largest number of beach goers.

  • Shoreline Parks – Hammonasset, Rocky Neck, Sherwood Island, Silver Sands – lifeguards will be scheduled five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday.  These beaches have previously been guarded seven days a week.  These beaches are least crowded on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • Inland Parks –  Black Rock, Burr Pond, Indian Well,  and Squantz Pond Parks, will have lifeguard coverage between three and five days per week, including weekends – which are the busiest days at the parks.  These beaches have previously been guarded seven days a week.

State Park Museums and Nature Centers

Days and operating hours for some state park museums and nature centers are being adjusted after the July 4 weekend to focus on the times when the most people visit these sites:

  • Dinosaur State Park –   The museum grounds and trails will be closed on Mondays.  The museum there has been closed Mondays, but there has previously been access to the grounds on that day. 
  • Gillette Castle –  Will be open Thursday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Labor Day, when it will close for the year.  It has previously been open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Columbus Day.
  • Heublein Tower at Talcott Mountain State Park –  Will remain open Thursday through Sunday until Labor Day.  It is expected to move to a six-day a week schedule during peak fall foliage season.  It has traditionally been open seven days a week in the fall.
  • Putnam Memorial State Park – The Visitors Center will be open weekends only, when it draws the largest number of visitors.  It has been open seven days per week.

Other museums and smaller nature centers may have slightly changed hours as well. 

State Park Maintenance

There will also be reductions in the staffing for maintenance of our parks.  At less-visited sites, the public will see less frequent lawn mowing and other maintenance work.  The focus will be on maintenance and repairs that assure the health and safety of park visitors.

Additional Changes Expected

Commissioner Klee said, “As we move into the second part of the fiscal year, and next spring, there will likely be additional adjustments.  In making these decisions, our focus will remain on serving the greatest number of people and protecting public safety.”

Background Information

  • Connecticut has 109 state parks – as well as campgrounds managed by the park system within its 32 state forests –  that attract approximately nine million visitors a year.  The state park system offers opportunities for hiking, camping, swimming, boating, fishing, and picnicking, among many other activities. 
  • The total operating budget for state parks – including salaries, benefits and direct operating expenses – is about $18 million a year.
  • DEEP has full-time Parks Division staff of 70 and relies on more than 500 seasonal workers to assist in operating the parks during the busy summer season.  The cost-cutting measures being taken by DEEP do not involve layoffs of full-time staff.  The plan does call for reduced hours for many seasonal workers.
  • The appropriated General Fund budget for DEEP for the fiscal year that begins July 1 was reduced by approximately $10 million.  To allow the Agency to operate within this budget, the plan for operating state parks calls for $1.8 million in reduced spending.  

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