State parks will now be free to residents, but there’s a catch

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HAMDEN --  Effective January 1, if you are a Connecticut resident, you are going to be able to enjoy all of Connecticut's state parks and forests for free. Well, almost.

The Passport to the Parks program is part of the newly passed state budget. Twenty-four state parks and three state forests  will no longer have an entrance fee for state residents.

"Free is good," said Marzena Zielinska of Branford, as she prepared to take her weekly walk with her two dogs at Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden.

To make park and forest admission free, the program calls for additional DMV registration fees of $10 that are paid every other year.

Reaction at Hamden's DMV office was varied.

"I mean, I don't really use the state parks as it is," said Zach Forman of Cheshire. "So, I don't see a reason to pay, you know, 10 extra dollars."

"I guess if you go to the beach a lot in the summertime, it's worth the $10 because you pay more than that to park," said Sandy Neubig of North Haven.

"Well, if you implement it as free, it should be free without the hidden $10," said Diana Strain of East Haven.

It's expected the program will generate $16 million of the $18 million annually needed to upkeep and operate the parks.

"Well, that sounds great," said Perry Bassas of Branford, Who was among those visiting Sleeping Giant Friday. "I use the parks all the time. I love this particular one probably the best because of the hiking."

Another plus of this program: monies collected will now be kept separate from the state's general fund.

A UConn study, released several years ago, says our state parks and forests generate over $1 billion a year for Connecticut's economy and support more than 9,000 private-sector jobs.