Connecticut parks to remain open despite budget woes

Connecticut's state budget may be in limbo, yet there's still enough money to keep the 109 parks open this summer, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

"Given that we do bring in revenues, the parks can operate as they are through Labor Day," department spokesman Dennis Schain said.

Parking fees are collected from Connecticut residents and out-of-state visitors at the state's major parks. The state also collects campground fees and other miscellaneous revenue. That money is then deposited in the state's main spending account.

It became clear Tuesday that state lawmakers would not be able to pass a new two-year budget before the fiscal year ended on Friday. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy then unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the General Assembly to pass his 90-day "mini budget" to give lawmakers more time to negotiate a budget deal and to avoid deep cuts to state services. However, that didn't happen, leaving it now up to Malloy to fund essential state services using his limited executive power until a final budget agreement is passed and signed into law.

The state is facing an estimated $5 billion deficit in the new two-year budget, which began Saturday.

While some initiatives won't receive funding, such as the Summer Youth Employment Program, Malloy said the parks should be safe.

"The parks will be open on the early part of July, certainly," he said.

Visitors will notice, however, that some of last summer's cutbacks in operating expenses are being continued.

For example, lifeguards will only be posted at the state's four shoreline parks and four inland parks on Thursdays through Sundays, instead of all week. There will be lifeguards on duty at those parks until the Fourth of July.

Meanwhile, officials decided to close a fourth campground this summer. The campground at Macedonia Brook State Park in Kent will be closed, in addition to those at Devils Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, Salt Rock State Park in Kent and Green Falls in Voluntown. All four have the lowest rates of utilization. The parks will remain open.

Ten campgrounds with 1,300 campsites will be open this summer at state parks.

Unlike last year, campgrounds at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison and Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme, will close on Labor Day this year, along with the other state campgrounds.

"As of right now, we're looking at no camping after Labor Day," Schain said.

Like last year, Connecticut state park visitors will find reduced hours at state park museums and nature centers and reductions in maintenance. Schain said people have been leaving behind garbage and is reminding them to use trash receptacles.

"It's just inexcusable. People should have a higher outdoor ethic than that," he said. "We have limited resources. To have to strain them further to pick up trash left behind is kind of sad."

Additionally, department officials are permanently banning alcohol at Burr Pond State Park in Torrington, Scantic River State Park in Enfield and Nepaug State Forest and Satan's Kingdom Recreational Area in New Hartford.