State parks, forests, and campgrounds will be open for the season, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes said Friday morning.
Lower capacity limits that were in place will be relaxed for state parks this season, Dykes said. Capacity will instead be determined by available parking.
She said the state will be expanding what's open for the public and restore many services that were curtailed last year, with safety protocols in place to promote social distancing and to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
All state parks, forests and campgrounds, rustic cabins, youth group camping, river camping, backpack camping sites will be open beginning April 10, on a basis that will require reservations. The reservation system is open now.
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Last year, the opening of the camping season was delayed until July.
Dykes also said the state will be relaxing capacity limits. Capacity was limited last year due to the pandemic, but Dykes said they expect that parks will remain open until the parking lots are full.
Swimming will also be allowed at shoreline and inland beaches, with lifeguarding, and boat launches will be open. Picnicking will also be allowed.
Boardwalks that were closed will reopen with social distancing measures in place.
Dykes said DEEP anticipates opening indoor spaces, including nature centers, visitor centers, state park museums and more on May 29. Many of the spaces were closed last year because of concerns about the spread of the virus. Some facilities will have capacity limits to maintain social distancing.
Concessions and bath houses will be open with safety measures in place.
Gov. Ned Lamont said keeping the parks and beaches open during the pandemic has been the best therapy you could ask for and it was the biggest year ever for use of the state’s open spaces.
He said free buses will be provided this summer on weekend.
He urged that people need to be careful and wear masks for a bit longer.
COVID-19 Health Advisory Remains in Effect:
- 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.
What to Know:
- Swimming will be 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 state said that use of a state boat launch is low risk and can be safely utilized when patrons follow 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.
Eased COVID-19 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 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 tp 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.