State reducing hours, season-length at state parks, beaches, campgrounds amid budget cuts

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HARTFORD--The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which operates the state's 109 state parks and 32 state forests, is reducing hours and staffing at some the state parks, campgrounds and beaches due to budget restraints.

Currently, about 9 million visitors come through the parks each year, and operating costs are about $18 million, which funds everything including salaries for 70 staff and 500 seasonal workers. However, the General Fund budget for DEEP was cut by $10 million for the fiscal year starting July 1, and the following cuts will reduce spending by $1.8 million. No layoffs are planned.

This announcement comes less than one month after a bill passed in the state Legislature to eliminate parking taxes at state and local parks and beaches.

"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."

Here are some of the changes planned:

  • Shoreline state parks and beaches will only have lifeguards five days per week -- Wednesday through Sunday -- as opposed to the current seven days a week. Note: all of the parks will be accessible seven days a week, as they are now, there just won't be lifeguards. They include:
  • Parks that are located inland but are on lakes with swimming areas will now have lifeguards between three and five days week, as opposed to the current seven days. Note: all of the parks will be accessible seven days a week, as they are now, there just won't be lifeguards. They include:
    • Black Rock State Park
    • Burr Pond State Park
    • Indian Well State Park
    • Squantz Pond State Park
  • Operating times of state park museums and nature centers will be adjusted following July 4:
    • Gillette Castle: The castle will remain open Thursday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Labor Day. In the past, it was open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Columbus Day.
    • Hueblein Tower at Talcott Mountain State Park: To remain open Thursday through Sunday through Labor Day; then it will move to a six-day-per-week schedule for the fall foliage season. In the past, it was open seven days a week in the fall.
    • Dinosaur State Park: Museum grounds and trails will be closed Mondays; the museum has always been closed that day.
    • Putnam Memorial State Park: Visitor's Center to be open only on weekends. In the past, it was open seven day a week.
    • Other museums and smaller nature centers may have slightly changed hours as well.
  • Three campgrounds will close soon after the July 4 holiday; the rest will close after Labor Day Weekend, with the exception of Hammonassett and Rocky Neck, which will both stay open through Columbus Day Weekend. In the past, most campgrounds remained opened through September.
    • Parks closing after July 4:
      • Devil's Hopyard State Park Campground
      • Salt Rock State Campground
      • Green Falls Campground in Pachaug State Park
    • DEEP will contact those who had reservations at the three locations after July 4 and offer refunds or the chance to move their reservation to a different campground at no cost.

In addition, staffing for maintenance and lawn-mowing will be reduced.

"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.