FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — In the wake of deep state budget cuts, Connecticut will be reducing the lifeguard staffing at some state beaches as well as the hours at some state parks after July 4.
Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is taking steps to reduce operating expenses by $1.8 million at state parks by using resources more efficiently and focusing on the days and times of greatest public use of park campgrounds, beaches, museums, and nature centers.
In Fairfield County lifeguard staffing will be affected at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Squantz Pond State Park in New Fairfield and Indian Well State Park in Shelton.
At Sherwood Island, lifeguards will be scheduled five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays. The previous schedule had lifeguards seven days a week, but the beaches are least crowded on Mondays and Tuesdays. This rule will also affect these other shoreline parks: Hammonasset, Rocky Neck, and Silver Sands.
At Indian Well and Squantz Pond, there will be lifeguard coverage for three to five days per week, including weekends, the busiest days at the parks. These beaches have previously been guarded seven days a week.This rule will also affect Black Rock and Burr Pond state parks.
At Putnam Memorial State Park in Bethel and Redding, the Visitors Center will be open weekends only, when it draws the largest number of visitors. It has been open seven days per week.
“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.”
“Through the efficiencies we have identified, this plan will eliminate about $1.8 million from the cost of operating the state park system and help our agency achieve the overall savings required by the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year,” said Klee. “We will begin to roll out adjustments in our 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.”
Here are a few other cuts across the state:
- Reductions in staffing for maintenance, with less frequent lawn mowing and other maintenance work at less-visited sites.
- At Dinosaur State Park, the museum grounds and trails will be closed Mondays. The museum there has been closed Mondays, but there has previously been access to the grounds on that day.
- Gillette Castle will be open Thursdays through Sundays through Labor Day, when it will close for the year. It has previously been open daily through Columbus Day.
- Heublein Tower at Talcott Mountain State Park will remain open Thursdays through Sundays until Labor Day. It is expected to move to a six-day a week schedule during fall foliage season. It has traditionally been open daily in the fall.
- Also, three campgrounds – with the lowest rates of usage — will be closed soon after July 4 at Devils Hopyard in East Haddam, Salt Rock in Baltic and Greens Falls in Voluntown
The total operating budget for state parks – including salaries, benefits and direct operating expenses – is about $18 million a year.
The appropriated General Fund budget for DEEP for the fiscal year that begins July 1 was reduced by $10 million. To allow the agency to operate within this budget, the plan for operating state parks calls for $1.8 million in reduced spending.
“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,” Klee said.
DEEP has full-time Parks Division staff of 70 and relies on more than 500 seasonal workers for the busy summer season. DEEP's cost-cutting measures do not involve layoffs of full-time staff. The plan calls for reduced hours for many seasonal workers.