Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited Indian Well State Park in Shelton on Wednesday afternoon as part of a tour to promote Connecticut’s state parks in advance of the four-day holiday weekend.
“We have 107 state parks and 32 state forests and the system has been in existence for 100 years,” Malloy said while in Shelton. “It’s a great, inexpensive way for people to enjoy Connecticut.”
Tim DeScheen of Ansonia was among those visiting Indian Well with his family and friends a day before the Fourth of July, beating the holiday crowds.
“We just had to get out today,” DeScheen said in reference to the hot and humid weather. “We like the water here — swimming is the best part of coming here.”
Park supervisor Joe Maler said he expects a large crowd at Indian Well on July Fourth, with gates likely having to be closed when the parking lot becomes full sometime between the late morning and early afternoon.
“We reach capacity on every Fourth of July, depending on the forecast.” Maler said.
Tom Tyler, director of state parks, said this year’s predicted warm weather will bring lots of visitors over the coming days. “It will stay hot and dry for most of the weekend, which is the recipe for big crowds,” Tyler said.
Malloy agreed with those predictions. “This park will be packed over the weekend,” he said.
Indian Well offers range of activities
The 200-acre park off Route 110 and along the Housatonic River has a beach, recreational fields, hiking trails, a waterfall, and parking for about 500 vehicles. In addition to sitting on the beach, visitors often play soccer and volleyball. The popular horseshoes pits will be rebuilt in the future, Maler said.
“This is a pretty spot. It’s gorgeous,” said Malloy, standing on the beach and looking out at the Housatonic River.
Malloy said the state’s parks are a good deal for visitors. “The cheapest club membership you can get in Connecticut,” he said.
Daily admission to Indian Well costs $9 for an in-state vehicle and $15 for an out-of-state vehicle. A season pass for the state parks can be bought for $67.
Tyler said 22 of the state parks charge a parking fee, like Indian Well, while the rest offer free admission. Anyone can walk or bicycle into all state parks at no charge.
Malloy said he remembers visiting Indian Well State Park once as a child. Having grown up in Stamford, where he later was mayor, Malloy said his family usually frequented Sherwood Island State Park in Westport.
“Someone would have to show up early and wait in line [at Sherwood Island] to claim a table because there would be 60 to 70 of us,” he said of the Malloy family gatherings.
State Rep. Larry Miller of Stratford, whose district includes part of Shelton, said he also would visit Indian Well State Park when growing up. Miller was raised in Bridgeport, and also often went to Beardsley Park and Seaside Park in that city while young.
“On a lovely weekend like we have coming up, this place will be jammed,” Miller said of Indian Well State Park. “People will come from out-of-town and even from out-of-state.”
Upgrading the parks
Malloy said state parks and forests offer swimming, hiking, fishing, boating and other outdoor activities.
Millions of dollars are being spent upgrading the parks, he said, with some renovation work required after recent storms such as Irene and Sandy. “We’ve had a couple of tough years, weather wise,” the governor said.
Malloy said he generally favors putting funds toward improvements at existing parks rather than trying to create new parks.
“I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to add land for park and conservation purposes, but we also need to take better care of our parks,” he said. “We need to invest in our parks.”
Flooding at Indian Well
Flooding has been an issue at Indian Well and the nearby Maples riverfront residential area of Shelton. At the state park, the overflowing water can cause fence posts to come out of the ground, according to Maler.
“It’s a little bit of a nightmare,” Maler said of the need to repair damaged fencing.
Malloy noted that the Housatonic is a major river. “It stretches from Massachusetts to Long Island Sound. We have some control points with dams, but Mother Nature is pretty tough,” he said, pointing to the two recent tornadoes in Connecticut as examples.
As a park supervisor, Maler oversees three state parks in the region — Indian Well in Shelton, Osbornedale in Derby, and Silver Sands in Milford.
Visited three state parks
On Wednesday, Malloy also visited Hammonaseet Beach State Park in Madison and Black Rock State Park in Thomaston. He was joined by Daniel C. Esty, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the agency that oversees the state parks and forests, and other officials.
The entourage of state officials managed to squeeze in some local summer cuisine during their park promotion tour — grabbing a lobster roll while on the coast, Malloy said.
The governor will spend his long holiday weekend going to parades, cookouts and just spending time with his wife and children, he said.