DEEP: State Park Centennial Kicks Off

August 1, 2013
 
State Park Centennial Kicks Off
 
Lieutenant Governor Wyman, Commissioner Esty and others announce year-long celebration
 

Connecticut’s state parks are turning 100-years old and the state today kicked off a year-long celebration at Dinosaur State Park to highlight the parks system’s historic past, dynamic present, and exciting future. 
 
Featured speakers at the celebration included Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Commissioner Daniel C. Esty, and representatives of the Friends of Connecticut State Parks (FCSP) and the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA).
 
“The vision and foresight of Connecticut’s leaders in the early days of the 20th century led to a state park system that preserves scenic, historic, and environmentally sensitive lands, and provides outdoor recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike,” said Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman. “The State Parks Centennial is an opportunity to celebrate all we have accomplished and to look forward to meeting the challenges of the next century of our park system.”
 
DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty said, “One hundred years ago, a newly formed State Park Commission began acquiring properties that became the successful state park system we have today.  With 107 state parks, visited by eight million visitors a year, Connecticut looks forward to a year-long Centennial Celebration showcasing our beautiful landscapes, waterways, and historic and cultural locations that inspire and amaze everyone who sets foot in our parks.”
 
 “The Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) was the first nonprofit conservation organization established in Connecticut (1895), and part of CFPA’s original mission was to establish state parks to foster a public appreciation for the outdoors,” said Eric Hammerling, Executive Director of CFPA.  “Today, Connecticut is blessed with 107 state parks that show-off our state’s best natural resources and, according to a 2011 UConn Study, provide an economic benefit of over $1 billion and 9,000 jobs for the State every year. There is a century of achievements to celebrate during this State Parks Centennial, and we hope the investments in people and infrastructure will be made to ensure this System continues to create enormous value for future generations.”
 
“The Centennial Committee is gratified to celebrate the benefits of the foresight of preservationist’s 100 years ago.  These visionaries clearly recognized the importance of connecting people with the outdoors and worked with focus and purpose to secure stunning landscapes that might be enjoyed by successive generations,” said Pamela Adams, Chairman, Centennial Committee.  “Join us, throughout the year, at numerous events designed to recognize the accomplishments of the State Park System and the people who love them.  Help launch the Connecticut State Parks into a bright future of exploration, discovery and celebration.”
 
“Connecticut’s State Parks showcase an unrivaled cross-section of the best in the state’s natural resources -- they house significant historic structures, they provide ample illustrations of Connecticut’s rich cultural and military history, and they reflect every notable period from pre-historic to the present,” said Eileen Grant, President of Friends of Connecticut State Parks.  “Today’s citizens are the lucky beneficiaries of multi-generational efforts to protect these priceless places.  Hopefully, they will be inspired this Centennial year to help steward our state treasures so that every future family may also revel in our shared landscapes.”
 
Major sponsors to date for the Centennial Celebration include:
  • People’s United Bank
  • The Valley Railroad
  • Conestoga Log Cabins
  • Active Network
  • Beardsley Zoo
 
Summer Sojourn The Summer Outdoor Journey (SoJourn) is a 169-mile trek biking, hiking, kayaking and walking across Connecticut beginning on August 15 at Quaddick State Park, Thompson and ending on August 25 at Sherwood Island State Park, Westport.  Everyone is invited to a closing ceremony that will include a huge park festival with fun and games for the entire family. 
 
Some highlights along the way include paddling at Mansfield Hollow Lake, camping at Gay City State Park, Hebron, Dinosaur State Park Days, Civilian Conservation Corps 80th reunion and Shoreline Greenway Ribbon-Cutting at Hammonasset Beach State Park. See attachment for details of events.
 
Statewide Birthday Parties – To be held during summer of 2014, the “birthday parties” will feature free refreshments at state parks along with volunteer recruitment opportunities.
 
The Sky’s the Limit – We will look ahead to the future of state parks and propel Connecticut State Parks into the next century.  There are many projects underway and more planned for the future.
 
Highlights of the projects include: 
 
  • 100 camping cabins being built in State Park campgrounds.  At this time five state park campgrounds have 22 rustic cabins available for rent. They provide a camping experience for others.
  • A new Meigs Point Nature Center will be built at Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison.
  • Renovation of the pavilion at Sherwood Island State Park, Westport, including solar photovoltaic panels, energy efficient lighting and water conservation.
  • Major utility upgrades and energy efficient heating and lighting systems at many state parks.
  • Technology upgrades to better serve the public including expanded credit card processing at the parks.
 
One hundred years ago (September, 1913), a State Park Commission was formed by Governor Simeon Baldwin to acquire land and create a state park system.  The first priority of the six Commissioners was to survey the state for potential park sites.
That task was given to Yale graduate and Civil Engineer Albert M. Turner, the first state park employee.  Within seven months he traversed the entire coastline, investigated 50 lakes, visited dozens of the highest peaks and assessed the the major rivers.
 
With coastline property a priority the first purchase of land was a five-acre parcel in Westport that established a foundation for Sherwood Island State Park. Purchased in 1914, this property did not have public access until 17 years later.
 
By 1920, Connecticut’s first shoreline park, Hammonasset Beach State Park, opened to the public, drawing large crowds to its beach, boardwalk and pavilion. From the day it opened over 90 years ago, it remains the most visited state park in Connecticut.
 
During the Depression, work crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) improved land purchases by building miles of roads, picnic shelters, stone structures and swim areas in at least 25 state parks. Much of the work the CCC “boys” remains intact today.
 
Following World War II, the outdoor recreational boom led to the expansion and growth of state parks and formation of “Friends” groups, who supported them and are still in existence today.
 
In 1971, the State Park and Forest Commission held its last meeting and turned state parks and forests over to the newly created Department of Environmental Protection.

State Parks Today
 
Connecticut now has 107 state parks and 32 state forests that offer swimming, hiking, picnicking, boating, fishing and environmental education in scenic, tranquil, and historic settings.
 
Visited by nearly eight million people each year, state parks provide an economic impact of more than $1 billion per year.