HARTFORD — No one's going to have to pay to get into a state park this weekend as Connecticut marks the 100th anniversary of the state park system.
"To encourage everyone to visit a state park this Centennial year, we are waiving fees at our parks this Saturday and Sunday," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement issued Wednesday. "We will not charge the usual parking fees, and we will not collect admission fees at state park museums."
Parking or entrance fees are normally charged at 26 state parks and three state park museums, according to Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
State officials normally expect to collect about $120,000 in parking and admission fees during a regular summer weekend with good weather, Schain said.
The state routinely charges for parking at state parks, and admission fees are charged at museums at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, Fort Trumbull in New London and Gillette Castle in East Haddam.
The state is also putting on some programs for the free-parks weekend, including:
•A live reptile show Sunday at Stratton Brook State Park in Simsbury.
•Tours at Gillette Castle, Fort Trumbull, Heublein Tower at Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury, and the mansion at Harkness Memorial State in Waterford.
•Craft and nature programs at the Goodwin Conservation Center in Hampton and at Kellogg Environmental Center and Osborne Homestead Museum in Derby.
DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee urged people hoping to visit one of the big shoreline or inland lake parks to "arrive early … as parking lots at those locations can reach capacity quickly."
Klee also suggested residents visit some of the lesser-known state parks "to avoid possible crowds."
Connecticut's state park system made its first purchase of land for public use in 1914 when a 5-acre parcel was bought for what would eventually become Sherwood Island State Park. Today, 107 state parks in Connecticut cover 32,000 acres. An estimated 8 million people visit state parks each year, according to the DEEP.
The state normally charges $9 for parking at state parks with inland beaches — such as Stratton Brook in Simsbury, Bigelow Hollow in Union, Gay City in Hebron and Wharton Brook in Wallingford. Parking fees on regular weekends at shoreline parks — including Hammonassett, Rocky Neck and Sherwood Island — are ordinarily $13 a vehicle.
For more information about the free parks weekend, go to www.ct.gov/freestateparksweekend.