Sherwood Island among state parks most in need of repairs

WESTPORT — Sherwood Island is Connecticut’s oldest state park. It is also one of the most popular and, more recently, the one most in need of repair.

The state purchased the first plot of land from him in 1914, but it took until 1937 to secure all the necessary plots and secure public access. The park, located on Long Island Sound, covers 234 acres of beach, wetlands, and woods. It welcomed around 1.1 million visitors in 2021, an increase of around 10% from 2020.

“Sherwood Island (State Park) is a heavily used park, with aging infrastructure, so it’s definitely one of the parks in greatest need of investment,” said State Department spokesman Will Healey. Energy and Environmental Protection.

He said many of the buildings used for maintenance or storage predate the park and are in a “fairly rough state”, requiring rehabilitation.

Park officials have identified nearly $130 million in needed maintenance, repairs and other infrastructure projects at state parks over the past three years, a review of budget requests and other documents by Hearst Connecticut Media shows.

The report cites a need for $5.18 million in works for Sherwood Island alone. This includes approximately $3.38 million for a maintenance complex, $1 million for a restroom building and pavilion grove construction area, $500,000 to replace a bridge, and $300,000 for upgrades. electrical services, according to the documents.

Work on the bridge is already underway with plans slated for the summer or fall to replace or improve signage throughout the park, and to pave or complete roadwork near ticket booths and the parking lot entrance. West Beach, Healey said.

He said the other projects are part of the state’s broader prioritization efforts to address the large backlog of needed infrastructure improvements.

“We currently have minimal funding for these projects, but hope that the Governor’s proposal will be approved by the Legislature this session, and that by May or June we will know the level of resources that will be available for this important work,” did he declare. noted.

In the meantime, the project to replace the small old buildings with a new maintenance building has been suspended.

“Given the limited funding available to dedicate to a new, larger building, we have more recently focused on completing several projects in each of these older buildings to extend their useful life to meet our building needs. interview,” Healey said. “These projects will be prioritized this spring and summer, and will move forward, depending on the level of funding made available by the legislature.”

Liz-Ann Koos, President of Friends of Sherwood Island State Parksaid the plans described by the state appear to match what she heard from the park supervisor.

The group of friends helps focus on the grounds and programming and therefore welcomes any investment the state plans for the facilities themselves.

“It’s great,” Koos said.

She said proper upkeep and maintenance of the park is important to making it a beautiful place to visit — something she said even more people became aware of, including residents, when the city closed its doors. beaches and parks at the start of the pandemic.

“A lot of people have discovered Sherwood Island,” Koos said, adding that a positive byproduct of the pandemic has been the continued appreciation of the park and the outdoors in general.

One of the challenges facing Connecticut’s state parks is the cuts made to the parks system to address budget shortfalls under former Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration, which resulted in DEEP reduction in maintenance staff and the closure of campgrounds and visitor centers.

The Passport to Parks programwhich adds fees to motor vehicle registration but allows residents to visit state parks for free, brought in about $21 million a year to help cover park costs, such as staff, but not capital projects, DEEP officials said.

Koos said it was important for the state to invest not only in facilities, but also in the workforce.

“There has been a drastic reduction in the number of positions for park management,” she said. “If you want well-maintained buildings and grounds, you have to have people.”

State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, said Sherwood Island is a valuable local resource.

“We must treat this resource with the love and care necessary so that our children and grandchildren will one day have the chance to explore these beautiful beaches and trails,” he said. “I support these investments that will help maintain a state park that is functional, clean, and accessible to everyone.”

The state maintenance plan includes projects in 62 state parks, forests and boat launches combined. The state has a total 139 state parks and forests.

Some of the state’s oldest and most popular parks along the coastline — such as Rocky Neck, Sherwood Island and Hammonasset Beach — need the most upgrades, records show.

But not all waterfront parks are included in the maintenance needs plan. Silver Sands in Milford and Indian Well in Shelton are left out in the Bridgeport area.

Officials aren’t too bothered by that though.

State Rep. Jason Perillo, who represents Shelton, said he did not receive a capital improvement application from Indian Well.

“If anything, I’d like to see more rule enforcement by park staff,” Perillo said. “Many visitors to the park are from out of state and I know of instances where they have been less respectful to those who live near the park.”

A multi-million dollar project was also recently completed at Silver Sands following a fire in 2019 which destroyed the new construction.

The original $9.1 million park improvement project included a new boardwalk section and several buildings on it, as well as a maintenance building elsewhere on the property and additional parking.

Some of the state projects can now begin to be completed, although an exact timeline has yet to be released.

In February, Governor Ned Lamont announced plans for a $55 million investment in state parks as part of an effort to reduce the backlog of repairs to cabins, bathrooms, trails and other aging state park facilities. He and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes used Sherwood Island as the backdrop for the announcement, pointing to the park’s bathrooms and outdoor pavilion as evidence of overdue maintenance needs.

“Sherwood Island is a hub for our region, welcoming beachgoers from across the state, wildlife lovers and those who return regularly to remember the tragedy of 9/11,” Haskell said. “I can’t tell you how beautiful it is to visit this park on a beautiful day, to see people from all over the state coming together. We cannot defer maintenance projects that allow this beach to welcome Connecticut residents free of charge.

John Moritz and Brian Gioiele contributed to this story.

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