State lawmakers propose program to help fund state parks

HARTFORD – A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is floating an idea to create funding for state parks.

The group held a press conference Thursday on what they’re calling "Passport to the Parks." It’s a $10 fee that Connecticut residents would pay every two years when they renew their vehicle registration. In turn, they would receive free admission to every state park and forest in Connecticut.

Sen. Cathy Osten of Sprague said, "This is something that we can accomplish and this would keep our parks and ultimately our campgrounds open. My goal would be to see our parks and campgrounds open at least all spring, all summer and all fall, but having done some winter camping myself, I wouldn’t mind that either.”

There is an $8 million cut to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection included in Governor Dannel Malloy’s budget proposal. According to DEEP, those cuts would greatly impact state parks.

Recently, 12 full-time park maintenance workers were laid off, leaving 35 workers to take care of the 110 state parks and 30 state forests.

"I was at Rocky Neck State Park on Friday and it was kind of chilling to see every single camp site with grass knee high and that is a fear that I have for every campground if we don't make a concerted effort to have a funding source,” said Rep. Melissa Ziobron of East Haddam.

She said, "Now is an opportunity to work in a bipartisan way to get the Passport to State Park program up and running, so that we can be sure that we're staffing before Memorial Day and we don’t see knee high grass and empty camp sites in the future.”

Under the proposal, out of state visitors to Connecticut state parks and forests would still pay entry fees. They say it will generate $14 million in funding for state parks and forests.

Governor Dannel Malloy said he believes the proposal would only cover about half the costs of current operations at state parks.

"Most of our parks in the state and most of our parks in the nation are operated the way that we’re calling for most of our parks to be operated. And that is an understanding that there are peak periods of time, particularly at beaches, where we have to provide different services, but by and large our forests and our parks are self-service,” Gov. Malloy said.

"So would I support a program to fully fund the parks? The answer is 'Sure. I would.' I don’t know where the money comes from or how we would raise it, but a $10 per registration increase is insufficient to do that. But it’s an interesting idea and one that we haven’t looked at.”