Governor Ned Lamont and Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes on Friday kicked off the beginning of the busy Connecticut State Parks summer season during a visit to Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison.
Many of Connecticut’s shoreline and inland state parks that feature swimming areas are now staffed with lifeguards, and campgrounds are also open for the season. Museums, nature centers, and other interpretive seasonal sites within the parks are also open for fun activities, including tours.
Connecticut’s state parks are accessible in a number of ways. Through the to the Passport to the Parks program, all visitors driving in vehicles registered in Connecticut can enter without paying any parking fee. Residents and out-of-state visitors can access shoreline parks by rail and connect to buses that provide service to the parks through the ParkConneCT program. Sherwood Island, Silver Sands, and Hammonasset Beach State Park are all accessible via rail and bus transit to folks visiting from New York City.
“Our state parks are among the premier tourism destinations in the region and are a huge part of the tremendous quality of life here in Connecticut,” Governor Lamont said in a release on Friday. “Our parks are also a huge boon to our state and local economy. Last year alone we welcomed 17 million visitors to our state parks. We understand how important the ability to access parks are to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits they provide. That’s why we’ve relaunched the ParkConneCT program, and that’s why we’ve invested historic levels of funding to improve and upgrade our state park infrastructure. We hope you enjoy visiting the parks this summer, and as always, have fun and be safe.”
“We’re thrilled to kick-off what’s sure to be another busy summer Parks season for our hardworking team in the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said. “We have so many amazing places to recreate in our state, and so many ways to recreate, whether it’s relaxing in a park, swimming, boating, camping, or hiking, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. We’ve worked hard to restore the parks and make them accessible to residents – if you have a Connecticut-registered vehicle, come on in and get waved through, if you need a ride, utilize the bus service to several parks through ParkConneCT. We hope to see you this summer, and hope you have a safe and enjoyable time in the outdoors.”
Connecticut’s Outdoor Recreation Options
Connecticut has 110 state parks and 32 state forests, which include 14 campgrounds, 23 designated swimming areas, thousands of miles of trails, and hundreds of thousands of acres to enjoy. All of the state parks are administered by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). The state parks offer opportunities for hiking, camping, swimming, boating, fishing, and picnicking, among many other outdoor activities. A directory of every state park in Connecticut can be found online by visiting ct.gov/deep/stateparks.
Connecticut also manages 117 boat launches across the state on ponds, lakes, rivers and Long Island Sound. Information on these facilities can be found online by visiting portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Boating/Boating-and-Paddling.
Anyone planning to visit a state park or boat launch are urged to check for capacity closures before visiting. This information is routinely posted on Twitter at @CTStateParks and @CTBoatingInfo. Also, DEEP’s Water Quality Monitoring Program is back in action this season. Water quality information is published online at portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Recreation-Information/State-Swimming-Area-Water-Quality-Report.
The Passport to the Parks program provides that all visitors driving in Connecticut-registered vehicles can enter without paying any parking fee. This program is supported through a $15 fee ($5 per year) included with all non-commercial vehicle registrations through the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles. This funding has provided a stable and predictable source of funding to support the operations of state parks.
ParkConneCT: Public Transportation to Six State Parks
For the summer of 2023, DEEP and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) will again partner to provide the ParkConneCT program, providing public transit options for safe and reliable transportation to Hammonasset Beach, Silver Sands, Osbornedale, Indian Well, Sleeping Giant, and Sherwood Island State Parks. The service will operate Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Fares on all Connecticut buses returned on April 1, 2023, but many of the ParkConneCT routes will have no cost for riders. For information about fares and specific routes visit portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Park-Connect.
“Connecticut has incredible beaches and parks, and we’re excited to continue to offer accessible transportation so people can get to their destinations safely,” CTDOT Public Transportation Bureau Chief Ben Limmer said. “Through the ParkConneCT program, buses, trains, and even trolleys can bring people to the front door of our parks. Providing opportunities for people to leave their car behind and use environmentally friendly public transportation continues to be one of our guiding principles as we aim to build a transportation system that is sustainable and accessible, and we’re looking forward to future collaborations like this one.”
Seasonal Staff Opportunities Still Available
Multiple seasonal jobs, including positions for park rangers, maintenance, and more remain available this summer, particularly in the northwest corner of the state. For information on these opportunities, visit portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Human-Resources/Seasonal/Seasonal-Employment.
Campground Reservations Can Be Made Now
While state park and forest campgrounds are fully booked for Memorial Day weekend, there is a lot of availability for the remainder of the summer season. Campground reservations for all state campgrounds can be made online through Reserve America (connecticutstateparks.reserveamerica.com) or by calling 1-877-668-CAMP (2267). All campgrounds will open for the Memorial Day weekend but staffing may be very limited in some locations and there may be periodic closures of some campgrounds due to staffing shortages. Information about any potential closures will be communicated to those impacted.
Lifeguards and Swimming Safety
DEEP urges all residents and visitors getting in or on the water to prioritize water safety.
Water temperatures continue to be cold this time of year, despite warmer air temperatures. There is a very real danger of hypothermia for swimmers, particularly children, who enter very cold water for any extended period.
Lifeguards will begin Memorial Day weekend at six state park beaches, including Hammonasset Beach, Rocky Neck, Silver Sands, Sherwood Island, Black Rock and Squantz Pond State Parks. Lifeguard coverage will increase throughout June to include additional days per week as lifeguards finish school and become available, and the addition of guarded coverage at Burr Pond and Indian Well State Parks. DEEP anticipates guards will be fully staffed prior to the July 4 holiday.
Earlier this year, DEEP launched a free swim lesson program in partnership with the Great Waterbury YMCA to offer free swim lessons at 14 participating YMCA locations across Connecticut. The program, funded through American Rescue Plan Act, provides free swim lessons to children ages 17 and under who live in a qualified census tract and/or receives SNAP benefits, or who have been recommended to the program. Anyone interested in the free swim lesson program should contact their local YMCA. DEEP is working to establish similar partnerships with the Boys & Girls Club of New Britain and Connecticut Institute for Families located in Danbury.
Some helpful tips for those planning to enter the water:
- Parents and caregivers: Watch your children. It only takes seconds for a child to drown, and this can occur silently.
- Be aware of underwater hazards: Natural swimming areas can have sudden drop-offs, holes, large rocks, or tree roots that can’t be easily seen from the surface. Diving and jumping into these waters can be dangerous.
- Swim only in the designated areas and swim with a buddy.
- Take a swimming lesson: Swimming skills can help save lives. People of all ages should consider signing up for a swimming class offered at local YMCAs or municipal parks and recreation departments.
- Drink responsibly: Excessive alcohol consumption impairs judgment and reaction ability. Even prescription drugs may impair judgment. Swim sober.
- Know your limits, including physical fitness and medical conditions.
- Children, inexperienced swimmers, and all boaters should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
DEEP reminds all boaters that cold water temperatures create substantial dangers to recreational boaters, despite the possibility of warm air temperatures. Paddlers should exercise caution and use proper equipment, practice safety techniques, wear a life jacket (it’s the law through the end of May), and avoid dangerous situations. Paddlers should always be prepared for a sudden cold-water immersion. Over the last six years, Connecticut families have grieved the loss of eleven paddler fatalities during spring’s cold water boating season.
Some helpful tips for those planning to boat:
- Always wear your life jacket: Connecticut law requires anyone in canoes, kayaks, rowboats, or stand-up paddleboards to wear a properly fitting life jacket between October 1 and May 31. If a boater ends up in the water, a life jacket will make someone more visible to other boaters and will keep them afloat, significantly improving chances for survival.
- Do not paddle alone: Always paddle with a partner and know how to get back into the boat should someone fall overboard. When paddling with a partner, it is easier to get back into a boat or reach shore safely.
- Dress for cold water: Paddlers should dress for the water temperature not the air temperature. Water temperatures can vary greatly around the state during the spring, but all are still below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which is considered cold water. Cold water immersion increases the risk of cold-water shock and involuntary gasp reflex which is a leading cause of drowning.
- File a float plan: Make a travel plan, including details on location and time of departure and return, and provide it to someone. Give them a call when boating has ended and identify who to call in case of emergency.
- Maintain a proper lookout: Damaged docks, pilings, and trees may be floating down rivers and into Long Island Sound. Boaters should be especially vigilant when they get out on the water to look for and avoid floating debris.
To learn more about cold water boating and paddling in Connecticut, visit the DEEP Boating website at portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Boating/Paddling/Paddling-in-Connecticut.
Help Protect Nesting Birds
DEEP is asking beach visitors and boaters along the Connecticut shoreline to respect the fencing and yellow signs warning of piping plover and least tern nesting sites on various coastal beaches statewide. Both the plover and the tern are state threatened species.
Be a Good Steward of State Parks
The state parks belong to everyone, so everyone has a responsibility to keep them clean for the next visitor. Everyone is strongly urged to dispose of any waste in a receptacle or take it with them if there isn’t one. If everyone does their part, the state parks will stay beautiful for everyone.
Established in 1913, the mission of the Connecticut State Park System is to provide natural resource-based public recreational and educational opportunities through a system of state park and forest recreation areas, environmental centers, and nature centers that provide an understanding of, access to, and enjoyment of, the state’s historic, cultural, and natural resources.