At the former Sunrise Resort, in a once grand dining hall on the shores of the Salmon River, a highchair rests on the roof, and patches of moss grow on the shredded wall-to-wall carpet.
The abandoned resort, once a vacation destination for visitors from New England and New York, stands at a crossroads. Potential suitors sought by the state to restore the facility to its former glory failed to come up with plans that won approval from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which purchased the land with the intent to redevelop it.
"It's definitely time to move on," said Jim Johnson, whose family was the last owner of the resort before it was purchased by the state for $3.2 million in 2008. "Any movement down there would be good."
The property has languished since the state bought it. Although the land -- now called Sunrise State Park, which is connected by trails to the nearby 300-acre Machimoodus State Park -- has been open to the public since it was purchased, there are no signs advertising that fact. There is little evidence that the public is welcome -- there is no parking area, and an iron gate blocks vehicle access.
So vandals have replaced the vacationers who once flocked to the resort, in its heyday one of about 40 resorts in the area.
Thieves have ripped copper out of the walls of many of the cabins, torn the air conditioners out of the walls and smashed glass and mirrors. The empty Olympic-size pool is covered in graffiti. Obstacles at the mini-golf course have been swallowed by high grass, and copies of the last breakfast menu are scattered on the floor of the dining hall.
According to DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain, the state spends $10,000 a year on maintenance and upkeep on the property, including mowing, plowing and small repairs.
"It's disgraceful that the resort was abandoned past its point of being saved," said Rep. Melissa Ziobron, an East Haddam native whose first job was at the resort. She has proposed legislation urging DEEP to develop a plan for Sunrise that "ensures the safety of the premises."
Ziobron, who once served as the town's economic development coordinator, has watched the resort sink further and further into disrepair.
"It's bittersweet," Ziobron said. "But [DEEP] inaction has left us with little choice. I hope Sunrise becomes a lesson for the future when the state purchases land with infrastructure on it that they have a plan to go with it."
In 2009, the state invited developers to submit proposals for the property. Four were submitted. A Chester architect suggested turning the area into an Old Sturbridge Village-type development showcasing historic building renovation, sustainable agriculture and farming. Another company proposed a water park. Last year, a collection of New London-based nonprofit groups wanted to create a summer camp for disabled children, and a group of East Haddam residents suggested a campground, nature center and renewable energy demonstration center.
None of the ideas went beyond initial discussions.
"The proposals were interesting and had interesting facets, but in the end none of them were ready to move forward with any financing," said Tom Tyler, DEEP's parks director.
In 2011, DEEP paid Fuss & O'Neill $33,500 to assess the utilities and to identify potential environmental issues on the property. The firm's 24-page report identified five underground tanks and asbestos in many of the buildings, which would need to be removed before any development takes place.
The state plans to begin cleanup of the property, using funding available from the state Department of Construction Services for removal of hazards on state-owned property. The state will hire outside firms to remove underground tanks and other infrastructure. According to Schain, the DEEP spokesman, said the state will not know the cost of the work until after it is completed.
Schain said funding for the cost of demolishing the resort's buildings will come from DEEP's budget, and possibly from the State Bond Commission. Once the site is cleaned up, Schain said, the state will encourage the public to use the land, which has frontage along the Salmon River.
"We want to talk more to the community about other potential uses" of the land, Schain said.
It's a forlorn end for Sunrise Resort, which opened in 1916 and was expanded in the 1920s by owner Henry Engle and partner Ted Hilton. In 1965, Dot Lindvall, who had worked at the resort since 1937, bought the property with her husband, Frank Davis, and ran it until 1986, when the Johnson family took ownership.
The resort's last private owner thinks it's time to let go now.
"Any progress is good, and that includes taking down the buildings," said Johnson. "We would be happy with that. It definitely had its time and place like the rest of the resorts that once existed down there."
Tyler said he understands the sadness of those who have fond memories of Sunrise. But tight state budgets and a poor economy, along with proposals that didn't meet DEEP requirements, combined to doom the former resort. He said a vast majority of the buildings will be taken down, except for historically significant houses near the entrance, and picnic shelters.
"We certainly understand the frustration of local officials and residents who have seen the facility deteriorating over the years and have seen no activity other than the destruction of the buildings," Tyler said. "But the conditions out there are in very rough shape and we can't continue to let the buildings remain. ... There's a bunch of work ahead of us."