Governor Ned Lamont and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Commissioner Katie Dykes today announced that Connecticut’s State Parks system and boat launches are planning to return to providing full services to visitors during the 2021 season, with some state campgrounds opening to campers with reservations today.
DEEP’s operation plan for this season was developed consistent with current guidance for the prevention of SARS-CoV-2 transmission (the virus that causes COVID-19) and based in consultation with the Connecticut Department of Public Health. It was also informed by guidance on state parks and recreation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plan will be updated as new information and operational conditions require.
“Connecticut has some of the best parks of any state in the country, and the State Parks system provides numerous opportunities across the state to explore the outdoors,” Governor Lamont said. “Enjoying outdoor recreation is not only good for physical health, but also for improving mental health, and I encourage everyone to explore some of the beautiful opportunities our state has to offer, particularly at those smaller, less explored state parks. Connecticut has 110 state parks and 32 state forests, offering plenty of opportunities for recreation.”
For a list of every state park in Connecticut, visit portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Listing-of-State-Parks.
Personal and group compliance with COVID-19 precautions, mask wearing, and maintaining social distance practices will be essential to the safety of park visitors and staff, and DEEP’s ability to ensure maximum safe access to these valuable resources.
There is a current 200-person limit for outdoor group activities in Connecticut, which may be further adjusted throughout the recreation season. Most park buildings, museums, nature centers, and other enclosed structures, including restrooms, will be opened on Memorial Day weekend. Six feet of social distancing must be maintained at all times while inside park buildings, along with adhering to mask wearing requirements. Visitors who do not abide by these rules may be asked to leave state park property.
The following health advisory remains in effect for all visitors:
- If you are not feeling well stay home. Signs and symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, new loss of taste of smell, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Stay close to home. Do not travel long distances to parks or other recreational areas.
- Wear a face covering over the nose and mouth at all times when in public settings with individuals from outside your household, especially where social distancing of greater than six feet cannot be maintained continuously.
- When engaging in activities where masks cannot be worn (e.g. during eating, swimming, etc.) individuals should plan to maintain a minimum of six feet of distance (preferably more) at all times.
- Engage in outdoor recreational activities with members of your household or with others if consistent with current public health guidance. When hiking, masks should be worn when passing other groups within six feet.
- Practice good hygiene when outdoors. Wash hands, carry and use hand sanitizer, and sneeze and cough into a tissue or elbow, not hands.
The following is a summary of outdoor services and amenities at various locations administered by DEEP:
- Swimming permitted at shoreline and inland state parks based on DEEP’s assessment that visitors to Connecticut State Park beaches can be accommodated in conformance with public health guidance. While masks should not be worn during active swimming, masks can be used by individuals engaged in wading at water levels below the waist and is encouraged when wading areas are crowded and continuous distancing is not possible.
- Lifeguards will be on duty at DEEP’s eight inland and all shoreline beaches if adequate staffing recruitment allows. DEEP anticipates lifeguard crews will begin working on Memorial Day weekend. Beaches without lifeguards will be posted with signage that reads, “No lifeguards on duty.” Lifeguards will be provided training to reduce the risk of virus transmission in the course of their duties, including providing CPR.
- State park and forest campgrounds, rustic cabins, youth group, river camping, and backpack camping sites will open during the spring for the 2021 season on a reservation-only basis. The campground reservation system is open for new campground and cabin reservations. These decisions are based on current public health guidance, cleaning protocols and the availability of adequate staff and appropriate PPE. Any changes to these expectations may result in adjustments to camping opportunities. Group campsite renters are responsible for being aware of and complying with current guidelines on mask wearing and group size.
- Permanent food concessions will operate at Rocky Neck, Hammonasset Beach, Gillette Castle, Silver Sands, and Sherwood Island State Parks, and are scheduled to open on May 29, 2021. Visitors are required to follow social distancing signage and must maintain six feet of separation while standing in line.
- Public restroom and bathhouse facilities will open on Memorial Day weekend. Portable toilets are available in certain other locations. The public is reminded to carry hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- State boat launches will continue to remain open to the public. The use of a state boat launch is low risk and can be safely utilized when patrons follow commonsense safety practices, such as social distancing and wearing face coverings. Environmental Conservation Police Officers and Boating Division staff will be monitoring activities at state boat launches to ensure social distancing compliance. If the public health strategies provided on signage are not complied with, staff will advise and educate users or take additional actions, as necessary.
- The Boating Division expects heavy demand for boating access again in 2021. Boat launch capacity closures will continue to be announced through Twitter (@CTBoatingInfo). Boaters are encouraged to check the Boating Division’s Twitter account before heading out. The Boating Division will continue to be active on social media to highlight the smaller, out-of-the-way launches to encourage boaters – especially paddlers – to take advantage of all 117 launches. The Boating Division website contains information and directions for all 117 state boat launches.
The following is a summary of eased restrictions on gatherings and group size:
- Indoor and outdoor structures where the public tends to congregate had been previously closed to the public. DEEP intends to open nature centers, visitor centers, Gillette Castle, Dinosaur State Park, and others on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Definitive decision making will be based on current metrics surrounding community transmission and COVID-19 case rates in Connecticut and guidance from the Department of Public Health and the governor’s office.
- Picnic shelters are now open for small groups and for rental. They are open for appropriately sized groups only and six feet of social distancing must be maintained. Shelter renters are responsible for being aware of and complying with current guidelines on groups size. Many of DEEP’s picnic shelters are available for reservation through Reserve America.
- Picnicking is permitted in our parks and forests. Picnic tables have been returned to their usual locations for public use in accordance with applicable public health guidance and group size limits.
- Special Use License and Marine Event Permit applications will be accepted not later than 60 days prior, nor earlier than 90 days prior to the event date (the application window is 60-90 days prior to the event). At the time of application, the event must be consistent with the governor’s executive orders, Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) sector rules, and Department of Public Health guidance. Applications that are not consistent with such requirements will be denied. Special Use License and Marine Event Permit applications must be submitted at least 60 days prior to the scheduled event. Applications will not be accepted if they are received less than 60 days prior to the event. Applications that have been previously submitted and are currently under review for future events that exceed the current outdoor gathering size limits will be put on an administrative hold until consistency with the most current executive order is determined by the commissioner.
- Outdoor Environmental Education programs (both those conducted by DEEP as well as events hosted by others) will be permitted if current gathering guidelines are followed, including size limitations, mask use, distancing, and exclusion of symptomatic, ill, or quarantined individuals. It is incumbent on event organizers to be aware and compliant with such guidelines.
DEEP encourages all visitors to take personal responsibility and make sure they comply with current public safety guidance. DEEP will always try to educate first. However, if people are blatantly ignoring the rules they may be asked to leave the park and/or face further enforcement action as required if actions and behavior are not corrected. If the parks experience too many visitors who are not following current safety guidance or adhering to recommended group sizes, DEEP may be forced to temporarily close some facilities.
DEEP’s operational plan is subject to change and daily observations and reporting of visitation at facilities will continue. Evaluation of that information may result in additional changes to allowed capacity, and perhaps other visitor management techniques, including consideration of limitation of hours of operation, and closure of specific facilities, as required.