HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes have announced that state parks and boat launches are planning to return to providing full services to visitors during the 2021 season.

DEEP’s operation plan for this season was developed consistent with current guidance for the prevention of Covid-19 and based in consultation with the state Department of Public Health. It was also informed by guidance on state parks and recreation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plan will be updated as new information and operational conditions require.

“Connecticut has some of the best parks of any state in the country, and the State Parks system provides numerous opportunities across the state to explore the outdoors,” Gov. Lamont said. “Connecticut has 110 state parks and 32 state forests, offering plenty of opportunities for recreation.”

A list of state parks is available at portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Listing-of-State-Parks.

“Last year, DEEP’s dedicated staff worked through uncertain and dynamic conditions to support more than 10 million visitors, a record number despite reduced capacity limits at many of our parks, forests, and beaches,” Commissioner Dykes said.

“We have applied many lessons learned from last year and with careful adherence to evolving guidance and a cautious eye on daily indicators, we optimistically, but cautiously, plan to ease limitations and restore access and amenities at many of our valuable outdoor recreation and education locations to provide as much opportunity for outdoor recreation as we safely can.”

Personal and group compliance with Covid-19 precautions, mask wearing and maintaining social distance practices will be essential to the safety of park visitors and staff and DEEP’s ability to ensure maximum safe access to these resources.

There is a current 200-person limit for outdoor group activities in Connecticut, which may be further adjusted throughout the recreation season. Most park buildings, museums, nature centers and other enclosed structures, including restrooms, will be opened on Memorial Day weekend.

Six feet of social distancing must be maintained at all times while inside park buildings, along with adhering to mask-wearing requirements. Visitors who do not abide by these rules may be asked to leave state park property.

The following health advisory remains in effect for all visitors.

Those who are not feeling well should stay home. Signs and symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, new loss of taste of smell, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

Residents are urged to stay close to home and not to travel long distances to parks or other recreational areas.

Wear a face covering over the nose and mouth at all times when in public settings with individuals from outside your household, especially where social distancing of greater than six feet cannot be maintained continuously.

When engaging in activities where masks cannot be worn, such as eating, swimming, etc., individuals should plan to maintain a minimum of six feet of distance, preferably more, at all times.

Engage in outdoor recreational activities with members of your household or with others if consistent with current public health guidance. When hiking, masks should be worn when passing other groups within six feet.

Practice good hygiene when outdoors. Wash hands, carry and use hand sanitizer and sneeze and cough into a tissue or elbow, not hands.

Swimming is permitted at shoreline and inland state parks based on DEEP’s assessment that visitors to beaches can be accommodated in conformance with public health guidance. While masks should not be worn during active swimming, masks can be used by individuals engaged in wading at water levels below the waist and is encouraged when wading areas are crowded and continuous distancing is not possible.

Lifeguards will be on duty at DEEP’s eight inland and all shoreline beaches if adequate staffing recruitment allows. DEEP anticipates lifeguard crews will begin working on Memorial Day weekend.

Beaches without lifeguards will be posted with signage that reads, “No lifeguards on duty.” Lifeguards will be provided training to reduce the risk of virus transmission in the course of their duties, including providing CPR.

State park and forest campgrounds, rustic cabins, youth group, river camping and backpack camping sites will open during the spring for the 2021 season on a reservation-only basis. The campground reservation system is open for new campground and cabin reservations.

These decisions are based on current public health guidance, cleaning protocols and the availability of adequate staff and appropriate PPE. Any changes to these expectations may result in adjustments to camping opportunities.

Group campsite renters are responsible for being aware of and complying with current guidelines on mask wearing and group size.

Permanent food concessions will operate at Rocky Neck, Hammonasset Beach, Gillette Castle, Silver Sands and Sherwood Island State Parks, and are scheduled to open on May 29. Visitors are required to follow social distancing signage and must maintain six feet of separation while standing in line.

Public restroom and bathhouse facilities will open on Memorial Day weekend. Portable toilets are available in certain other locations. The public is reminded to carry hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

State boat launches will continue to remain open to the public. The use of a state boat launch is low risk and can be safely utilized when patrons follow commonsense safety practices, such as social distancing and wearing face coverings.

Environmental Conservation Police Officers and Boating Division staff will be monitoring activities at state boat launches to ensure social distancing compliance. If the public health strategies provided on signage are not complied with, staff will advise and educate users or take additional actions, as necessary.

The Boating Division expects heavy demand for boating access again in 2021. Boat launch capacity closures will continue to be announced through Twitter (@CTBoatingInfo). Boaters are encouraged to check the Boating Division’s Twitter account before heading out.

The Boating Division will continue to be active on social media to highlight the smaller, out-of-the-way launches to encourage boaters – especially paddlers – to take advantage of all 117 launches. The Boating Division website contains information and directions for all 117 state boat launches.

DEEP intends to open nature centers, visitor centers, Gillette Castle, Dinosaur State Park and others on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Definitive decision making will be based on current metrics surrounding community transmission and Covid-19 case rates and guidance from the DPH and the governor’s office.

Picnic shelters are open for small groups and for rental. They are open for appropriately sized groups only and six feet of social distancing must be maintained. Shelter renters are responsible for being aware of and complying with current guidelines on groups size. Many of DEEP’s picnic shelters are available for reservation through Reserve America.

Picnicking is permitted in parks and forests. Picnic tables have been returned to their usual locations for public use in accordance with applicable public health guidance and group size limits.

Outdoor Environmental Education programs, both those conducted by DEEP as well as events hosted by others, will be permitted if current gathering guidelines are followed, including size limitations, mask use, distancing and exclusion of symptomatic, ill or quarantined individuals. 

It is incumbent on event organizers to be aware and compliant with such guidelines.

DEEP’s operational plan is subject to change and daily observations and reporting of visitation at facilities will continue. 

Evaluation of that information may result in additional changes, including, but not limited to, allowed capacity, and perhaps other visitor management techniques, including consideration of limitation of hours of operation, and closure of specific facilities, as required.

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