MADISON, Conn. (WTNH) — Memorial Day weekend may get off to a damp start in Connecticut, but it should brighten up Sunday! With summer around the corner, Madison’s Hammonasset Beach State Park is celebrating the opening of its 2022 tourism season.

Although Connecticut residents flocked to Hammonasset amid hot temps last weekend, the park’s campground officially opened for the season on Friday, May 27. Over 500 campsites are available for guests.

“We have about 13 million visitors that are coming out to visit our state park system every year,” said Katie Dykes, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

Three to four million guests visit Hammonasset State Park each year, making it the largest tourist destination in the state.

“We are fortunate to have a state park or forest within 15 minutes drive of every man, woman, and child in the state,” Dykes said.

The state’s Passport to Parks program offers drivers with a Connecticut license plate no-cost parking at all state parks and beaches.

“I think that’s great,” Kristen Mullady of West Hartford said. “I mean, Connecticut has so many great things to offer, and that’s just one of them we take advantage of as much as we can.”

If you plan to do some swimming or boating this holiday weekend or summer, Middletown police want you to stay safe. They say there are approximately 3,500 to 4,000 drowning deaths per year in the U.S., and drowning is the leading cause of accidental deaths of toddlers ages 1 to 4.

Middletown police offer these tips:

  • Don’t leave children unattended. Drownings can occur in seconds
  • Learn CPR
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Stay in designated swimming areas
  • Make sure pools follow local codes and ordinances (fences, alarms, self-latching gates)

Starting Memorial Day weekend, the state is also resuming ParkConneCT, a pilot program launched last year. It provides free shuttle service and enhanced existing transit service to Hammonasset and six other state parks.

The parks included in ParkConneCT are:

  • Fort Trumbull State Park
  • Hammonasset Beach State Park
  • Indian Well State Park
  • Osbornedale State Park
  • Sherwood Island State Park
  • Silver Sands State Park
  • Sleeping Giant State Park

At Fort Trumbull in New London, the SEAT bus will provide the ‘fare free’ ride during the summer months and beyond. SEAT and other public transportation systems in the state will be extending the free fares after Labor Day weekend.

“The governor and the legislature have approved keeping the buses operating til the end of the year,” said Joseph Giulietti, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

The state is actively recruiting for EnCon Police officers as well as seasonal workers, including lifeguards, who will begin to man their chairs at Hammonasset and Rocky Neck this weekend.

“This is your summer to be a lifeguard, you lifeguard wannabes,” Gov. Ned Lamont said. “Let’s go! The pay is okay but look at your office, not bad.”

Learn more about Connecticut’s parks and forests here.