MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) — The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) issued an updated operational plan Friday, as the state heads into the Fourth of July weekend.
Many of the procedures that have been in place for most of the COVID-19 pandemic — daily capacity limits, social distancing guidelines and use of face coverings — remain the same. There are several updates that apply mainly to swimming, camping, group sizes and picnicking.
Swimming and Beaches
DEEP continues to permit swimming only at shoreline state parks (not inland state park swim areas) at this time; swimming at inland beaches is prohibited. Beaches are closed at these locations, and lifeguards are not on duty.
This decision is based on considerations of potential overcrowding and the ability to maintain social distancing onshore and in the water at beach locations.
Those caught swimming in restricted areas will be fined $75. Those caught entering a park after it’s closed are subject to stiffer penalties and could lose park privileges for up to one month per Governor Ned Lamont’s Executive Order.
“We know places like Wadsworth [Falls State Park] are getting a tremendous amount of pressure and a lot of use,” said Commissioner Katie Dykes.
Marissa Allanson, of Wallingford, and her family were looking to get out of the house and head to Wadsworth Falls.
“You can’t be inside,” she said. “I have three kids, figured we would come out and see the falls and go back home.”
The Agarwal family, of South Windsor, went hiking to the waterfall as well.
“It’s tempting to get in the water, get your feet wet, get inside the water, but everyone was following the rules,” remarked Mukesh Agarwal.
No swimming signs have been posted to enforce the rules.
“We are really working to get overall compliance,” Dykes said. “And overall, people are understanding but there are exceptions, and we are working to address them.”
The following changes have been made for shoreline state parks:
- Lifeguards are now on duty at shoreline beaches in Connecticut state parks, as staffing allows. On days and times when these beaches do not have lifeguards on duty, they will be posted as “No Lifeguards on Duty.”
- Restroom buildings at our shoreline parks are now open.
- Visitors to shoreline parks must maintain 15’ of space from other beachgoers (blanket-to-blanket). This distance will allow for a 6’ radius around each person or family and a 3’ walkway in between groups.
- Shoreline parks continue to operate at lower capacity levels, to prevent overcrowding and support social distancing. If you choose to visit a shoreline state park that features a beach, visitors are encouraged to select locations closest to home and consider visiting early in the morning before crowds gather. Shoreline parks have been reaching capacity and closing early, especially during weekends. Visitors should be ready with a back-up plan if their first choice is closed. Real-time updates on closures are posted on the state parks Twitter feed, @CTStateParks and at https://portal.ct.gov/whatsopenoutdoors.
- Visitors should bring face coverings and use them whenever they are in proximity to others. Face coverings should not be worn in the water.
State Campgrounds, Cabins, and Youth Sites: State Park Campgrounds opened July 1 for RV campers. The campgrounds will be open to all campers (including tent campers) beginning Wednesday, July 8. The campground reservation system has been reopened to make reservations for camping between July 8 and the end of the 2020 season. Cabins, Youth Group and River Camping will not be open for the 2020 season. All camping is by reservation and walk-ins will not be permitted.
Group size: According to the state’s Phase 2 reopening guidance, there is a limit of 100 people for outdoor group activities. Six feet of distance between non-household members remains in place for group events, as well as the use of masks where appropriate distancing can’t be maintained. It can be difficult to maintain social distancing in large groups, so DEEP encourages visitors to consider enjoying parks in smaller groups.
Picnicking: Picnicking remains limited in parks. Household members are permitted to bring a blanket, sit on the ground or bring their own table and chairs to picnic. Larger groups of up to 100 can picnic as long as members of the group stay 6’ apart. Picnic tables may be available on a limited basis and placed to ensure adequate social distancing can be maintained. However, DEEP is not disinfecting picnic tables and encourages the public to bring a table cover.
DEEP is also recommending that people look to use some of the state’s less-frequented state parks and forests over the holiday weekend, in anticipation of the more popular shoreline state beaches and parks reaching capacity early in the day.
“I encourage visitors to state parks and forests this holiday weekend to continue to recreate responsibly,” Dykes said. “Visitors have done an amazing job thus far during the pandemic, and it’s important that we stay the course by keeping up the good practices that have our state trending in the right direction.”