Guide to beach season in southwestern Connecticut
Updated 9:50 am, Friday, May 20, 2016
Itching to get out on the sand? There are some things you should know before you head to one of southwestern Connecticut's beaches.
Every beach has its own fees and summer schedule, and some are changing this year.
As of now, state park passes include sales tax, but the DEEP is talking about getting rid of that this year. Nothing has been finalized yet, but this could mean lower fees for Squantz Pond in New Fairfield and Sherwood Island in Westport.
In Stratford, beach goers can expect a new and improved experience at Short Beach with a full-service restaurant and bar, a tournament-grade bocce court, an upgraded golf course and a general sprucing-up.
The new restaurant — The Beach House Grill — is expected to open in the coming weeks in the former Recreation Department headquarters. It's the same building that greets visitors to the park.
"We know that the golf course can't survive on greens fees alone," said Karen Daden, the Short Beach Commission member who is spearheading the latest push to get the park shipshape. "It needs the restaurant and the rent money we'll get from that, and from other revenue streams, too."
The news is not as good for those looking to get out to Pleasure Beach in Bridgeport.
Faced with already high taxes, a budget deficit and possible losses in state aid, members of the City Council trying to craft a new budget are considering charging out-of-towners who currently enjoy free summer sojourns at Pleasure Beach.
"I think it's a great idea to generate more revenue," said Councilman Anthony Paoletto.
"City residents pay taxes and I understand why they should get a benefit to be able to go to Pleasure Beach for free," said Council President Tom McCarthy. "Folks coming from out of town and out of state don't pay taxes to Bridgeport, so it's only fair and reasonable."
But the practicalities of imposing and collecting any fees could keep the attraction free for the foreseeable future.
"We have a lot of things to consider," said John Ricci, head of public facilities who will soon be pulling double-duty managing the parks following the pending retirement of Charles Carroll.
"Establishing a fee is the easy part," Ricci said. "Collecting the fee is the difficult part without causing a lot of chaos and angering a lot of people in the process."
A one-time summer destination, the Pleasure Beach peninsula was cut off from major traffic after a 1996 fire demolished the wooden bridge from Seaview Avenue. It was reopened to great fanfare in 2014 by then-Mayor Bill Finch with state and federal aid.
Unlike other recreational sites in Bridgeport where park stickers are required of both residents and non-residents, Pleasure Beach has free entry. Visitors can park their cars for free on the mainland and hop a water taxi for a free ride to and from the peninsula.
"It was, in the beginning, to get people used to the idea of going there again," said Carroll, long time parks director. "We had talked about possibly charging a nominal fee for the (boat) ride over, but at that time Mayor Finch didn't want to do that."
It would appear revenue is being left on the table. According to Carroll's department, 50,000 people total visited Pleasure Beach over the last two years. But the parks department could not provide a breakdown of how many of those 50,000 are not from Bridgeport.
Given it is less convenient and less-developed than other seaside areas of Bridgeport and Connecticut in general, ex-Mayor Bill Finch, whose administration re-opened the attraction, likened Pleasure Beach to the Nantucket island off of Cape Cod.
Deliberations over a Pleasure Beach fee come as Mayor Joe Ganim's administration is moving ahead with across-the-board fee increases for everything from parks use to building permits.
So, for example, the resident park sticker price will rise from $10 to $15. Non-city residents parking at Seaside Park - the other major beach - would see the fee double from $20 to $40.
Ricci said one of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to collect a Pleasure Beach fee from out-of-town visitors. How would they be identified, and would they be charged for parking in the lot or when boarding the water taxi?
"And we're looking at what the price break would be," Ricci said.
Councilwoman Eneida Martinez's district includes Pleasure Beach. Martinez said she opposes establishing any fees there.
"It probably should be exempt for the next five years," Martinez said, arguing the attraction is still building a following.
"It's already an inconvenience for (visitors). They have to wait for the taxi to get across the water," Martinez said. "And you're going to charge them to come? They (the city) was taking a loss anyway and not making a profit because the park was closed for so many years."