Seaside State Park is a Connecticut embarrassment
After writing recently about the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection allowing the owner of a new beachfront mansion next to Seaside State Park to erect a fence on a state-built stone beach groin — blocking the public from its rightful beach access — I decided that the agency had reached a new low.
And then I heard from a neighbor at Seaside who told me about the disappearance of a sign marking the entrance to the park on Shore Road.
Indeed, on a visit I discovered the sign — the only marking to indicate the property is a park and available to the public for recreation — is gone, every trace of it missing. Seaside, it turns out, is also the only park among dozens listed on a DEEP overall park listing website that has no link to more information, directions, hours or facilities.
DEEP, it seems, is actively working to keep the public away from this magnificent property. I can only think the agency is bowing to the wishes of rich neighbors, like the fence-erecting mansion owner, who want to keep the public at bay.
The entrance to the property, no longer even marked as a park, is a disgrace — unkempt, weedy, with some dilapidated old signs with instructions, for instance, about a prohibition against swimming. There's a place to park near a driveway, which is blocked by a collapsing gate across the road, but no markings to explain the parking entrance or exits.
It's like some third-world version of a park, certainly not one owned by one of the richest states in the country. It's shameful.
I know I am a cynical newspaper columnist, but I had a hard time accepting DEEP's explanation for the missing sign, which has disappeared without a trace. The ground was regraded to remove any evidence it had been there.
I'll let readers make their own decisions about the explanation:
"The sign post came down in a recent wind storm. It looks like there was some rot in the post that contributed to the failure," a DEEP spokesman wrote back, when I asked about the missing sign. "Staff will make needed repairs to it over the winter and reinstall the sign, likely in the spring."
Wow. How did I miss that sign-destroying wind storm, the one that left all the other old signs on the street standing? It will take a winter of repairs to fix the sign? Was it necessary to eliminate the evidence that there had even been a sign?
Maybe the sign will be back in the spring, DEEP says, but we are not promising anything.
I would call that the arrogance of bureaucrats.
Of course, I hold Gov. Ned Lamont responsible for this disgrace. Not only has he, like several Connecticut governors before him, continued to neglect the magnificent abandoned buildings of the former Seaside Sanatorium at the site, but now his administration is actively discouraging public enjoyment of this amazing coastal site.
The buildings, falling into ever-more-serious disrepair, are all surrounded by construction fencing, but there's no reason the public can't use the rest of the magnificent site, walk the sweeping lawns or the sandy beach. That is, if they could figure out how to find it.
The two state legislators who represent Waterford — Sen. Paul Formica and Rep. Kathleen McCarty — should be advocating for at least some basic improvements to the park to make it accessible to the public.
Can they drive by, look at the disorderly mishmash of closed gates and an overgrown driveway and actually muster any pride for this magnificent park property in the heart of their districts?
Of course not. It's a disgrace. It's a grossly neglected state park in their backyards. Maybe they like DEEP's program for keeping the location of the park secret.
Former Gov. Dannel Malloy waved his magical gubernatorial wand in 2014 and made Seaside a state park on the eve of an election. The surprise move was supposed to help the local incumbent Democratic representative running against Formica for a vacant Senate seat, but didn't.
The Democrat lost, but Seaside remains a park. It never got all the investment Malloy promised, the nature trails and exercise stations and educational centers.
But the public deserves some simple maintenance with clear, marked access and parking instruction. We also deserve better than lame excuses about the missing sign. Put it back now.
Seaside State Park is simply a Connecticut embarrassment.
I know I'm a sucker for state history and views across long lawns up and down Long Island Sound, but I would suggest Seaside, the state's most neglected and only deliberately hidden park, is surely one of its finest.
This is the opinion of David Collins.