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Seaside State Park now closed to cars

Waterford — Seaside State Park is closed to vehicles indefinitely, only allowing foot traffic.

A Connecticut State Park and Forests official at Seaside Monday confirmed that new orange and green plastic fencing was erected near the entrance to keep cars from entering the grassy parking area.

A wooden roadblock bearing a State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection sign reading "AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY" also blocked half the roadway at the front of the entrance.

"In the past, you could park in a lot near Shore Road and walk into the park," DEEP Media Relations Manager Will Healey wrote in an email Monday. "As of today, that parking lot has been closed off, and you can no longer park there. DEEP officials blocked off the parking area on Shore Road with large rocks and sawhorses."

Healey explained why DEEP decided to close Seaside to vehicle traffic.

"The decision was made to limit the number of visitors to the park," Healey wrote. "Residents living within walking distance may still enter the park. Residents living within driving distance are advised to visit nearby Harkness Memorial State Park."

Healey also noted that Seaside is a small park, so adequate social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Right now, Kent Falls State Park is the only other state park closed to the public in any fashion, according to Healey.

Gov. Ned Lamont's recent executive orders regulate state parks in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, park visits "should be for solitary recreation, not group activities," according to DEEP's State Park and Forest division website.

Visitors are urged to try nature areas off the beaten path rather than well-populated spaces such as Hammonasset Beach State Park, Sleeping Giant State Park or Bluff Point State Park. People are advised to avoid crowds if they see people gathering in parking lots or on trails.

Hikers are told to warn other trail users of their presence when passing and to bring their own water, as public water fountains may be disabled.

The DEEP is also monitoring visitor capacity at the state's most popular parks and may reduce the parking threshold to further limit the number of visitors and help to prevent overcrowding.

Healey wrote that DEEP is doing its best to maintain access to state parks in a safe manner. He mentioned that picnicking, gathering in groups of more than five people and walk-ins once parks reach capacity are prohibited. Violations of these measures can result in fines or criminal charges.

"It is possible that this park (Seaside), or any other state park may be fully closed at some point due to the public health emergency," Healey added.

Ann Schenk, a Waterford resident whose home is adjacent to Seaside, said she woke up this morning and was surprised about the activity there.

"I walked out and saw a neighbor and said, 'Did they close Seaside?' She said, 'No, it's open,'" Schenk said. "I walked around the corner and they were putting up orange fencing along the lawn. The people putting up the fencing said, 'They're not closing all the state parks, but they're closing this one. We don't know why.'" 

Schenk said she understands the need to close parks, but she was surprised because she hadn't heard Seaside may be partially or completely shut down before seeing the work Monday.

"It's fine, you do what needs to be done, but another part of me was like, 'Oh, this is my backyard!'" Schenk said. 

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