State limits lifeguard hours at Silver Sands, Indian Well and other parks to save money

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is reducing expenses at state parks in light of state budget reductions, and that includes cutting lifeguard services at Silver Sands State Park in Milford from seven to five days a week, and cutting lifeguard service at Indian Well in Shelton from seven days a week down to three to five days a week.

Lifeguards will be at Silver Sands Wednesday through Sunday, rather than the full week. This also applies to other state shoreline beaches: Hammonasset, Rocky Neck, and Sherwood Island.

In a press release issued Friday, the DEEP said it is “using resources more efficiently and focusing on the days and times of greatest public use of park campgrounds, beaches, museums and nature centers.”

State officials said the budget for DEEP for the fiscal year that begins July 1 was reduced by approximately $10 million. The total operating budget for state parks – including salaries, benefits and operating expenses – is about $18 million a year. To meet the state budget, DEEP is reducing state park allocations by $1.8 million.

The beaches, including Silver Sands, are least crowded on Mondays and Tuesdays, the press release states.

“Our plan is designed to reduce expenses while providing the highest quality outdoor recreation opportunities for the public and ensuring public safety,” said DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee. “By carefully analyzing how and when the public uses our state park system we will achieve the savings we need while keeping much of what we offer at our 109 parks open and available to the public.”

The state will begin to roll out adjustments in its days and hours of operations, and in services, soon after July 4.

“We will also continue our analysis of park operations to identify the potential for more savings – and expect to take additional cost-cutting steps in the spring of 2017,” Klee said.

Inland Parks

Inland parks, including  Black Rock, Burr Pond, Indian Well and Squantz Pond, will have lifeguard coverage between three and five days per week, including weekends – “which are the busiest days at the parks,” the release states.

These beaches previously had lifeguard service seven days a week.

Three campgrounds with the lowest use will be closed soon after the July 4 holiday:  Devils Hopyard in East Haddam; Salt Rock in Baltic and Greens Falls in Voluntown.

All other state park and forest campgrounds will close after Labor Day – with the exception of the campgrounds at Hammonasset Beach and Rocky Neck state parks, which will remain open through Columbus Day weekend.

“Several of the campgrounds in the state park and forest system have traditionally remained open until the end of September – but the number of fall campers is small and can be accommodated at Hammonasset Beach and Rocky Neck,” state officials said.

Officials said DEEP will contact people with reservations at Devils Hopyard, Salt Rock or Greens Falls and allow them to switch their reservations to another campground at no cost, or to receive a full refund.

State Park Museums and Nature Centers

Days and operating hours for some state park museums and nature centers are also being adjusted after the July 4 weekend.

  • Dinosaur State Park: the museum grounds and trails will be closed on Mondays. The museum there has been closed Mondays, but there has previously been access to the grounds on that day.
  • Gillette Castle: The castle will be open Thursday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Labor Day, when it will close for the year. It has previously been open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Columbus Day.
  • Heublein Tower at Talcott Mountain State Park: The tower will remain open Thursday through Sunday until Labor Day. It is expected to move to a six-day-a-week schedule during peak fall foliage season. It has traditionally been open seven days a week in the fall.
  •  Putnam Memorial State Park: The visitors center will be open weekends only. It has been open seven days a week.

Other museums and smaller nature centers may have slightly changed hours as well, state officials said.

State Park Maintenance

There will also be reductions in the staffing for park maintenance. At less-visited sites, the public will see less frequent lawn mowing and other maintenance work, according to the DEEP.

Additional changes are expected. Klee said, “As we move into the second part of the fiscal year, and next spring, there will likely be additional adjustments. In making these decisions, our focus will remain on serving the greatest number of people and protecting public safety.”

Connecticut has 109 state parks – as well as campgrounds managed by the park system within its 32 state forests –  that attract approximately nine million visitors a year.

Officials said they expect no layoffs among the state’s 70 full-time parks division staff, but the plan reduces hours for 500 seasonal workers.

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