It’s no secret that more people have been seeking fresh air as a way to decompress and stay active during the ongoing pandemic. People have gained such an appreciation for the outdoors, it has been a record-breaking year for capacity at Connecticut's state parks.
"When the pandemic hit in March and April we actually realized the value of parks when it come the mental health the ability to get outdoors and get some of that fresh air,” explained Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Mason Trumble. “And so we kept our parks open."
People flocked in droves.
"Last year we closed our parks about 150 times due to capacity,” said Trumble. “This year we've closed our parks over 500 times just due to them filling up to capacity."
Limiting capacity has been the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's first line of defense when it comes to keeping park visitors at a safe, social distance during the warmer months. Especially during the summer when the number of beachgoers soared.
"We do track traffic to our parks and Hammonasset State Park even though it did have reduced capacity we saw an extra half a million visitors actually visit Hammonasset this year which is pretty incredible," Trumble said.
The Connecticut Trail Census is another tool used to measure outdoor activity. The census is run by the University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture Health and Natural Resources and uses infrared sensors on trails throughout the state to count hikers. From March, when the pandemic started, through September, 1,876,328 visitors were recorded. That ended up being nearly 757,000 visitors more than the same time period in 2019.
"A lot of these parks are getting discovered and people are actually realizing the great resources that we have in our state that they didn't realize they were there," said Brenda Marquez, administrative assistant to Trumble.
But there have been short term growing pains.
"We see some extra littering in our parks, our park staff are working overtime to try and just handle the influx in visitors but long term those folks are going to turn into people who love the outdoors and really value our parks so we view it as a positive thing although it has been a challenge for our team," said Trumble.
Jazlyn Morris and Jordan Meyer from Enfield weren’t surprised to hear that state park capacity has been skyrocketing.
“A think a lot of people are just trying to go out and get outside and not stay inside,” said Morris.
Meyer continued, “things are more busy like everywhere. It seems like everywhere you go there are more people so it’s pretty cool.”
Especially when you get a November day with sunshine and temperatures in the 70s.
“It’s like a treat almost for like this crazy year that we’ve had to be able to go outside and feel this refreshing weather,” said Morris.
People aren’t just hitting the trails either - DEEP reports that hunting and fishing license sales are also up this year.