The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is temporarily banning walk ins at state parks. This is something that New Fairfield officials have been calling for over the past decade as a way to control crowds at Squantz Pond. DEEP officials in the past have said it couldn't be done without legislative approval, and instead limited car parking to 250 spaces. Local officials say the car limit was helpful in preventing drownings, but allowing walk ins defeated the purpose.
Under the Governor's Executive Order during this public health emergency, DEEP now says a ban on walk ins is needed for crowd control. Commissioner Katie Dykes says this will help visitors follow social distancing guidelines.
As the traditional launch of the summer season approaches with Memorial Day weekend, the DEEP has released an operational plan that outlines current guidelines for state park grounds, trails, beaches, boat launches and other areas. State parks remained open throughout the pandemic, with restrictions such as daily capacity limits, social distancing guidelines, and use of face coverings.
State park beaches along the Connecticut shoreline will open Friday. Guidance from the state Department of Public Health indicates that recreational swimming is not a known form of transmission of COVID-19, in saltwater or freshwater. Visitors to shoreline parks must maintain 15 feet of space from other beachgoers, blanket-to-blanket. This distance will allow for a 6 foot radius around each person or family and a 3 foot walkway in between groups.
Face coverings should not be worn in the water. Visitors should not expect that restroom buildings will be open, but most locations will have portable toilets available. Lifeguards will not be on shoreline beaches in Connecticut state parks early in the season.
Based on the very limited size of beach and swim areas at inland state parks, and current social distancing guidance, DEEP will close beaches at inland State Parks, and prohibit swimming at inland State Parks. DEEP will consider the reopening of designated swim areas on a case-by-case basis.
DEEP will reduce parking capacity and close beaches for the day if social distancing cannot be maintained, and will make adjustments to operations and consider longer-term closures if the situation warrants.
Lifeguards will be provided training to reduce the risk of virus transmission in the course of their duties, including providing CPR. Guidance for lifeguards is available from the American Red Cross. Lifeguards will not be posted at inland beaches while swimming is prohibited at those beaches.
State Campgrounds, Cabins, Youth sites, Backcountry and River Camping sites are closed until at least June 11. Additional campground reservations for the 2020 season have been postponed to prevent the need to reimburse the public for future reservations if campgrounds remain closed.
While law enforcement personnel are authorized to enforce social distancing and group size guidance, DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes says they first seek to educate and ask people to follow the rules, in hopes that visitors will take personal responsibility and make sure that they comply.
If people are blatantly ignoring the new rules they may be asked to leave the park and/or face further enforcement action as required if actions and behavior are not corrected. The potential penalty for violation of any Executive Order, including Governor Lamont’s Executive Order prohibiting entry into a Park when its closed, during the course of a public health emergency can be a fine up to $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both, for each offense.