Imagine three families going to a Connecticut State Beach this summer on a hot weekend paying different amounts, including zero, depending on the beach they choose.
A recent State Parks and Forest report researches these fees.
Most Popular Parks With Fees
Three quarters of 2013 park revenues came from only six of the 139 parks, mostly from parking fees, the study states. Those six include:
1. Hammonasset Beach – 37% ($2,256,292)
- Weekends/Holidays: Residents: $13/$6 after 4pm, Non-residents: $22/$7 after 4 pm
- Weekdays: Residents: $9/$6 after 4pm, Non-residents: $15/$7 after 4pm
- Camping: Residents: $20 a night, Non-residents: $30 a night, $70 a night for rustic cabins
2. Rocky Neck Beach – 15% ($944,724)
- Same day use and camping fees as Hammonasset; no rustic cabins
3. Sherwood Island Beach – 10% ($607,030)
- Same day use fees as Hammonasset; no camping
4. Harkness Beach – 8% ($480,334)
- 70% – Rentals of Mansion for weddings, private parties, special events
- Weekends/Holidays: Same as weekday rate at Hammonasset
- Weekdays: Residents: $6 for residents all day, Non-Residents: $10/$7 after 4 pm
5. Gillette Castle – 4% ($262,320)
- More than 90% comes from Castle Admissions – No parking fee
- Ages 13 and over: $6, Ages 6-12 $2, Ages 5 and under free.
6. Dinosaur – 2% ($131,560)
- Most comes from admission fees – No parking fee
- Same fees as Gillette Castle
Other revenue generating parks that charge fees for parking, admission, or camping brought in $1,512,204.
The report also looked at parks that had the highest number of paid use visitors from 1999 to 2013. Those not listed above included:
- Sleeping Giant – (weekends/holidays only $9/$5 after 4 p.m. for residents and $15/$6 after 4 p.m. for non-residents)
- Kent Falls – (weekends/holidays only $9 resident, $15 non-resident, fees charged until 7pm)
- Indian Well Beach – (same fees as Harkness)
- Squantz Pond Beach – (same fees as Hammonasset no camping)
Most Popular Free Parks
Non-revenue generating parks that were also popular, based on estimated attendance given in the study, included:
- Bluff Point Beach
- Silver Sands Beach
- Mansfield Hollow
CT vs. Other States Entrance Fees
For state residents, fees are between $6 and $13 while the national median for park fees is between $5 and $5.50, the report states, adding that for non-state residents, fees range from $10 to $22 compared to the national median, which is between $5 to $6.
Connecticut charges more per vehicle than the nationwide median, the report explains, adding that Connecticut also charges more than Massachusetts and New York, which charge between $2 and $10 per vehicle.
The report also states that Connecticut has the highest bus fee at $100 for residents and $150 for non-residents compared to the national median fee of $20 for residents and $25 for non-residents.
Reliance on Day Use Fees
The report examines the fact that Connecticut relies more heavily on day use fees than other states. 62% of revenue comes from day use fees in Connecticut while for all other states it is 24%. Overnight stays and camping provide 43% of revenue for all other states but only 33% for Connecticut. Connecticut makes no revenue from restaurants, pools, or golf courses on park properties while all other states make 4%, 1%, and 5% respectively. All other states make approximately 7% of their revenue in concessions while its only 2% in Connecticut.
The study explained that over the past five years, 2013 had the second lowest number of season passes sold with only 8,409. It admitted that more passes sold in 2010 (9,662) when they were only $50 for residents and $75 for non-residents before a rate hike brought the cost to $67 for residents and $112 for non-residents. Connecticut season passes are more expensive than Massachusetts, according to the study, which only charges $35 for residents and $45 for non-residents.
To Charge or Not to Charge
The report admits that “based on park-by-park comparisons, it is not clear that the places charging day use fees are the most-attended parks. Of the 15 parks with estimated attendance of over 100,000 visitors for CY 11, only 10 charged parking fees at any point,” and also states “besides not charging for parking at several of the most highly-used parks (or at least most highly-estimated-use parks), parking fees are only being charged at fewer than half of the medium-use parks (between 50,000 and 100,000 visitors a year)”.
The study states that only 19% of Connecticut parks charge entrance fees while the national median is 49% adding that, “it is possible the current system of charging admission wastes resources in parks that do not warrant staffing a ticket booth as often or at all,” explaining that the use of automated technology would increase revenue and save on staffing costs.
To charge more fairly based on usage of parks, the report states that “ideally, each park entrance in the state would have a traffic counter permanently in place”. This would allow parks to measure attendance at free parks and at parks with fees when day use fees are not in effect.