Make Connecticut welcoming again, staff visitor centers

It is a summer afternoon and a family of four, mom and dad in the front, 6-year-old twins Harvey and Heather in the back seat of the Prius. Their plans are fluid. Coming south on Interstate 95 from outside Boston, they are ready to explore the Connecticut coast.

Crossing the state line from Rhode Island into Connecticut they spot a sign for a “Rest Area and Information Center” after passing Exit 92. But the stone building, with the title “No. Stonington Rest Area” is not very welcoming.

The restrooms are open, they will be until 3:30 p.m., but what is supposed to be the welcome and information area is locked off. A look through the glass doors makes it clear the place has been closed for a while, with boxes stacked up on one side, an opened step ladder sitting in front of what was once a reception desk, and vacuums and mop pails in plain sight.

Sort of like that bedroom which, after the kids move out, turns into a junk room — only this one has glass doors and a steady stream of visitors.

Welcome to Connecticut!

We suppose Mr. and Mrs. Prius and the kids may still find their way to Mystic and its attractions. There is the thing called the internet. But they may not. And they are certainly less likely to learn of the many other, but less known attractions and opportunities southeastern Connecticut has to offer.

And with this depressing “greeting,” will they want to come back?

Travelers coming into Connecticut northbound from New York don’t get so much as a restroom. The sign on the ramp leading to the visitor center in Westbrook is labeled with a big orange “CLOSED.”

Visitor centers at entry points in Danbury, Southington, Willington, Middletown and Wallingford are likewise shuttered.

The big commercial rest stops along interior I-95 remain, supported by the fast-food restaurants there.

Closing the border welcome centers in 2016 to find relatively modest savings — $1.1 million in a $20 billion budget — was a bad move by the outgoing Malloy administration. Having closed the North Stonington rest stop, a gateway to the state’s busiest tourism area, was particularly boneheaded.

We’re confident that the economic commerce and resulting tax revenues that would result would more than pay for once again staffing at least some of these welcome centers. Yes, people do much of their research digitally these days, but the state should not discount the human touch of having someone describe a gem that visitors would have not otherwise found, someone who makes them feel welcomed and wanting to return.

And if incoming governor Ned Lamont can get around union objections, he should be able to staff these visitor centers with part-time workers receiving modest pay. What a great retirement job.

Perhaps the next time Mr. and Mrs. Prius come this way — if there is a next time — they will learn of a great scenic road to drive in hybrid efficiency or about a restaurant they should be sure not to miss. Possibly the praise heaped on Harvey and Heather by the hostess at the information desk will leave them feeling good about their visit to Connecticut.

It is certainly better than peering into an unused space that sends the message, “We’re closed. Keep moving.”

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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