Hammonasset Beach. Connecticut beaches and parks continue to draw capacity crowds this summer.

As the Malloy administration and state legislators negotiate a new FY18-FY19 biennial budget, many residents will directly be affected by the cuts made to public programs they depend on.

There is, however, one decision that can still be made that would not increase the deficit, and be greatly appreciated by Connecticut residents—enactment of the bipartisan Passport to Parks.

The Passport to the Parks funds about 80 percent of the funding necessary for full operations of the state parks generated from a $10 charge paid every other year on your two-year motor vehicle registration. In return for paying this charge, all motor vehicles with Connecticut license plates would gain entry to the state parks for free (the parking fee charged for out-of-state vehicles would continue). The public would benefit in many ways – shorter lines at park gates, better management of parks and campgrounds, and they would know they are supporting the public lands and access to nature that we all value — especially in these difficult times.

Connecticut State Parks host over 8 million visitors each year and are an important asset to our state’s natural legacy as well as popular summer hot spots for family trips. Beyond their economic benefits (generating over $1 billion a year in revenue and supporting more than 9,000 private jobs), our state parks provide recreation benefits, habitat for birds and other wildlife, and refuges to clean water sources. Yet despite these benefits, funding for these vital resources has been reduced every year.

Without the passport, the cuts to the state parks will continue to take their toll. Just remember what happened last summer when four campgrounds were closed; hours at nature centers were reduced; lifeguards worked for fewer days at state beaches and lakes; and maintenance work was minimized across State Parks, Forests, Wildlife Management Areas, and other public lands.

And recently, on Sunday afternoon (June 25th), five state parks were closed and were not allowing any new visitors due to their parking capacity being full. This shows their popularity among Connecticut residents. One can only imagine their attractiveness during the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.

Bipartisan support for this initiative is growing, and could provide good news for Connecticut in the midst of the potential for unprecedented budget choices.  Audubon CT and many advocates for state parks urge legislative leadership and the governor negotiating the budget to enact this new Passport to Parks initiative.

Genese Leach is a policy manager for Audubon Connecticut.

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