Connecticut will lift pandemic-related capacity restrictions at its state parks and beaches as part of expanded guidelines announced by Gov. Ned Lamont and environmental officials at a Friday press conference.
“Really, we’re going back to the way we were before the pandemic, where we close parks when our parking lots get full and we can’t accommodate more cars,” Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes said during an outdoor press conference at People’s State Forest in Barkhamsted. “That’s what we’re looking forward to this coming summer.”
Lamont also said he anticipates approval next week by the State Bond Commission of $2 million to fund repairs and maintenance at the state’s parks, forests, and wildlife management areas. That announcement came along with the release of the DEEP’s operational plan for the 2021 outdoor recreation season.
“These dollars go to work to help us fund things like grading, filling of gravel roads, building repairs at our pavilions and cabins, heating and ventilation system repairs, plumbing, toilet improvements, improving our picnic tables, our fire rings. All of these sound like humble investments, but across the state park system that covers 8% of the land area of the state of Connecticut, I can tell you, these dollars make a huge difference.”
Dykes said mask and social distancing guidelines would remain in place. But she said the state’s parks, beaches, and campgrounds would be less restricted this year. Connecticut campgrounds and cabins are slated to open Saturday, April 10, she said.
“As you’re planning your summer – unlike last year – we can tell you with certainty that campgrounds are going to be open and that you can make your reservation now. We can tell you with certainty that inland swimming is going to be open. We can give folks that predictability that we weren’t able to provide last year,” she said.
Dykes said swimming will be permitted at shoreline and inland beaches and lifeguards will be present.
Despite last year’s restrictions, department officials said Connecticut parks saw historic levels of use during the pandemic. Dykes said they saw more than 10 million visitors in 2020. An estimate of trail usage suggests 50% more people were hiking the state’s trails last summer. Meanwhile, sales of fishing licenses increased by 13% and hunting licenses were up 9%.
“Last year was our biggest year ever in terms of people visiting our parks and beaches. I mean, who woulda thunk it?” Lamont said. “People appreciated that . . . People rediscovered what makes this state so special.”
The state plans to open many of its indoor park spaces on a limited basis beginning Memorial Day weekend. Officials also expect public restrooms at parks to open at that time. Dykes said picnicking will now be allowed and some of the tables that had been removed from parks will be reinstalled.
For now, the state will maintain its 200-person limit on outdoor group activities. Officials asked that residents avoid visiting state parks if they are not feeling well.