Adopt a Connecticut state park

The smell of pine forests and campfires. The sparkle of the sun’s rays on Long Island Sound. The sighting of birds and other wildlife. The feeling of soul-restoring peace while paddling, hiking, swimming, fishing or just relaxing in nature.

These are just some of the benefits of the state’s most precious assets: its state parks and forests. Yet these same properties, even as they attract ever more residents, are at risk during these times of extreme financial pressure for the state. While we applaud Gov. Dannel Malloy for taking steps to keep the parks open and operating this summer even without an approved state budget, more permanent and long-term protection must be put in place to appropriately maintain these public lands in perpetuity.

The state needs a commitment from private citizens, business leaders and corporations to achieve this important task.

Just over a century ago, in 1914, the state purchased Sherwood Island in Westport as the first piece of land in its park system. Since then, the system has grown to nearly 150 state parks, beaches and forests, with one of the newest at Seaside in Waterford. Some 8 million visitors take advantage of the parks annually.

While most residents associate the parks, forests, beaches and campgrounds with rest, relaxation and recreation, the system’s economic benefits should not be ignored. A 2011 study by the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut estimated visitors spent a total of $1 billion annually for all outdoor recreation and ancillary spending. Some $544 million was spent in 2010 by visitors to state parks operated by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the study determined.

Yet a 2014 legislative study about funding the state’s parks and forests concluded that planning for the system had defaulted to crisis management, staffing levels were at a critical point and spending on the parks had stagnated over a seven-year period.

And consider that this was well before the state faced its current budget crisis. If it wasn’t apparent earlier, the current financial situation Connecticut faces makes it clear the state alone cannot adequately serve as steward of our public lands.

In fact, there already is a network of private citizens who help. The Friends of Connecticut State Parks is a volunteer organization formed in 1994 that supports the state’s parks, forests and conservation areas with educational programs, advocacy, and public awareness.

In addition, the state began an Adopt-A-Park program in 2013 that allows a network of volunteers to help maintain and financially support the parks. For example, in 2015, a group of sailors from the Naval Submarine Base cleared trails and thinned brush at Bluff Point in Groton, providing 35 hours of service in a single day.

To secure and preserve the park system’s future, these systems of private volunteerism and sponsorship must grow, however. Businesses and corporations also must step up to clean up and volunteer at parks. Financial support for parks, beaches and forests should be a part of annual employee giving campaigns and corporate sponsorship.

Business leaders must understand that a healthy park system improves quality of life. Improved quality of life aids in employee recruitment. In short, beautiful, well-maintained natural spaces aid in economic development. Business leaders should get on board as soon as possible in protecting these valuable public assets, and the state should welcome and facilitate their offers to help. 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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