Advocates presented their case for rescinding fee increases at Connecticut’s state parks at the state Capitol Wednesday.
“Most citizens in the state have no idea that this has happened,” Eileen Grant, president of Friends of Connecticut State Parks, said.
Fees at Connecticut’s state parks doubled last October as part of the budget. Parking at many state parks now costs Connecticut residents $20. Camping costs $26 a night.
Some people may consider a season pass but those have gone from $50 to $100. Gillette Castle State Park, Dinosaur State Park, and Fort Trumbull State Park are covered under a different season pass which now costs $100 as well.
“Our fear is that if we raise fees too much, we will completely undermine getting people into these parks,” Leslie Lewis, director for WalkCT, said.
Lewis said that her group was established to get Connecticut to take advantage of its state parks. “We are hoping the fees are rolled back to make these parks available for our families.”
Jim Little, director of development for Connecticut Forest & Park Association, said his group’s mission is to conserve Connecticut. “One of the ways we can do that is by connecting people to the land.”
“Because of the budget crisis,” said Little, “what is happening is the state parks and state forests are being underfunded.”
The groups executive director, Eric Hammerling, lamented the increasing expense to enjoy the state’s parks. He said the group supported “moderate” fee increases with less “sticker shock” for Connecticut residents.
“We would have supported a 20 or 25 percent increase but not double,” Hammerling said.
The Department of Environmental Protection estimated that the fee increase would bring in an additional $11 million this year. But according to CFPA, the result of the 100 percent increases has been a 40 percent decrease in camp reservations. This means that a twofold increase in fees will not translate into a twofold increase in revenue.
“At Sleeping Giant State Park, people drove up to the gate, heard how much it was, parked on Route 10 and walked in,” Hammerling said.
Lewis said that state park fees increasingly fall on the shoulders of poorer communities, particularly those in coastal communities with many private beaches.
“To deny recreation to poor family, that is appalling,” Grant added.
Some parks don’t collects fees though. “Those parks that don’t collect fees will get disproportionate use and that will cause maintenance problems,” Hammerling said.
According to Grant, staff at all the state’s parks total 90 people, while currently there are 7 to 8 million visitors a year. This means that much of the maintenance will fall on the volunteer groups that visited the Capitol Wednesday.
CFPA and Friends of Connecticut State Parks believe that the higher prices will also reduce the number of campers from surrounding states and negatively impact tourism.