HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — With the long Memorial Day weekend upon us, the state budget crisis is casting a dark shadow on Connecticut’s state parks.  Last year’s state budget brought cutbacks in the system of 110 state parks and 30 state forests.   People visit Connecticut state parks between 8 and 9 million times a year.  More than 2 million at Hammonasett State Park alone.

Last year the state cut back on lifeguards at the state park beaches so that they are only staffed Wednesday through Sunday during the peak summer season. There are only about 35 park maintainers for the entire state park system after the layoff of 12 earlier this month. One State Rep. says the cutbacks mean fewer lawn cuts.  “It was kind of chilling to see every single camp site with grass knee high,” said Rep. Melissa Ziobron (R-East Haddam).

The Malloy administration has already announced that some State Parks will have what they describe as “passive management” which really means little to no maintenance. The situation has become so acute that some Republicans are joining with Democrats in calling for a new fee or tax for the exclusive use of funding the parks.   State Senator Craig Miner (R-Litchfield) saying,  “My constituents are becoming increasingly aggravated with the prospect of not being able to get into public property and not having it taken care of.”

It would be a $10, so-called “Passport to the Parks” fee on your auto registration. In return, all Connecticut residents would pay no admission fee to any state park. Camping fees would remain.

“Well ten dollars would not pay for the operation of the parks,” said Governor Malloy when asked about the proposal.  He said today that it’s an interesting idea but a $10 fee on auto registrations would only generate about half the money needed.

The Speaker of the House said today that the leadership is committed to the parks but it is all subject to budget negotiations which remain in flux.  On the prospect of having no budget plan in place by July 1st the Governor said, “We don’t have a budget at all. I’m not sure those parks will be open on July 1st.”

The passport idea is estimated to raise $10 million to $14 million a year It costs about $20 million a year to run the park system and the current parking and camping fees only bring in about $6 million.