(WFSB) - Connecticut's state parks will remain open this summer in the wake of the coronavirus, but with restrictions.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued a lengthy operations plan on Wednesday morning.

It included the opening of shoreline swimming areas and the closure of inland swimming areas. Capacity limits and social distancing guidelines also remain in place.

 “I am proud that we have been able to keep Connecticut’s parks system open at a time when people need it the most,” said Katie Dyke, DEEP's commissioner. “This is all thanks to the adaptive leadership and hard work of our DEEP Parks employees and EnCon officers—and the cooperation of the public in following social distancing guidelines. I am hopeful that these common-sense guidelines will provide a blueprint for us to continue to operate and enjoy our State Parks and recreation areas safely into the summer.”

As the state begins a phased re-opening of its economy, the vast majority of state parks remain open, as they’ve been throughout the pandemic, DEEP said. 

Swimming and Beaches:

Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont, along with the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, announced that they would open beaches in their respective states effective Friday, May 22. Lamont also announced that in Connecticut, state parks that feature beaches along the Connecticut shoreline will be open May 22. 

As of the plan on Wednesday, DEEP is permitting swimming only at shoreline state parks, not inland state park swim areas. Guidance from the state Department of Public Health indicated that recreational swimming is not a known form of transmission of COVID-19, in saltwater or freshwater. However, DEEP said it made decisions about permitting swimming at state parks based on considerations of potential crowding and the ability to maintain social distancing onshore at beach locations.

DEEP said shoreline parks that feature beaches, operating under limited capacity, can safely accommodate visitors on beaches, provided they follow recommended social distancing guidelines. Visitors to shoreline parks must maintain 15 feet of space from other beachgoers, blanket-to-blanket. This distance will allow for a 6 foot radius around each person or family and a 3 foot walkway in between groups.

Based on the very limited size of state beach and swim areas at inland state parks, and current social distancing guidance, DEEP will close beaches at inland state parks, and prohibit swimming at inland state parks. It said the decision was based on the potential for on-shore crowding, not a concern of risk of transmission in freshwater. Park staff will monitor beach closures and educate the public to ensure compliance. DEEP said it will continue to review its policy along with public health recommendations and will consider the reopening of designated swim areas on a case-by-case basis.

If people choose to visit a shoreline state park that features a beach, visitors are encouraged to select locations closest to home, and consider visiting early in the morning before crowds gather. Visitors should keep their groups to their immediate families and not meet up with others. They should bring face coverings and use them whenever they are in proximity to others. Face coverings should not be worn in the water. Visitors should not expect that restroom buildings will be open, but most locations will have portable toilets available. 

DEEP will reduce parking capacity and close beaches for the day if social distancing cannot be maintained, and will make adjustments to operations and consider longer-term closures if the situation warrants. Updates on closures are posted on the state parks Twitter feed, @CTStateParks.

Lifeguards will not be on shoreline beaches in Connecticut state parks early in the season. These beaches are currently posted as "No Lifeguards on Duty." It is expected that shoreline beaches will begin lifeguarding when adequate staffing, training, and safety practices meeting DEEP standards are in place. Lifeguards will be provided training to reduce the risk of virus transmission in the course of their duties, including providing CPR. 

Connecticut municipalities continue to make decisions regarding the beaches and swimming areas they oversee. DEEP has been in consultation with municipalities during the pandemic, and will continue to be. 

State campgrounds, cabins, and youth sites:

State campgrounds, cabins, youth sites, backcountry and river camping sites are closed until at least June 11, DEEP said. Additional campground reservations for the 2020 season have been postponed for the time being to prevent the need to reimburse the public for future reservations if campgrounds remain closed.

Other options to open campgrounds are being considered that minimize staff and public risk, DEEP said. The decision will be based on current public health guidance, cleaning protocols and the availability of adequate staff and appropriate personal protective equipment.

Other Opportunities:

Aside from the four shoreline State Parks that feature beaches, there are numerous other parks that offer non-beach activities. Walking, running, biking, hiking, boating, and fishing are all available and can be enjoyed in places all over the state. For a list of the 142 state parks and forests Connecticut has to offer, visit DEEP's website here. For a list of the 117 state boat launches around the state, visit this website here. Information about fishing and hunting is also available on DEEP’s main website, www.ct.gov/DEEP.

Closures are bound to happen:

As has been the case on nice weather days, many parks reach capacity and close to new visitors for the day. To avoid closures, DEEP’s guidance is the same as it’s been for several weeks now: visit a less-traveled park, earlier in the day.

Check DEEP’s state parks Twitter feed, @CTStateParks, or the DEEP Boating Division’s Twitter feed, @CTBoatingInfo, to make sure the park or boat launch people want to visit isn’t already closed, and have a back-up plan ready in case it is upon arrival. Also don’t forget to consider municipal parks, a trail maintained by another organization, such as the Connecticut Forest & Park Association or a land trust.

As the state moves forward into the summer season, DEEP will continue to monitor and assess public use and recreational activities that occur at state parks and other DEEP managed outdoor recreation areas. Evaluation of that information may result in changes to the operational plan. While law enforcement personnel are authorized to enforce social distancing and group size guidance, DEEP seeks to educate first and ask people to follow the rules, in hopes that visitors will take personal responsibility and make sure that they comply.

To see DEEP's operational plan, head here.

Copyright 2020 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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