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Making Great Hollow Lake a Livelier Place to Be

Parks & Recreation Dir. Frank Cooper sees opportunities for canoe and kayak rentals, higher profile Character Nights and higher overall use of the beach area of Wolfe Park.

The Parks & Recreation Department request in the First Selectman's budget proposal for 2013-14 is $835,929, an increase from $734,571, according to the director Frank Cooper. It includes $38,833 for a new maintenance position. The following story focuses on Cooper's vision for Great Hollow Lake.

Great Hollow Lake is a summertime destination with a beach area for tanning and relaxation in the sun, swimming, fishing, a playground and a concession area where visitors can buy cold drinks, burgers, hot dogs and other fare from the proprietor of Lake Zoar Drive-In.

But the beach portion of Wolfe Park was not a happening place last summer. Parks & Recreation Dir. Frank Cooper attributes that to constant closings due to high E. Coli levels in the water after it rains.

"People have been turned off by the whole situation there over time," he told the Town Council during its budget workshop at town hall Tuesday night. "The department position was, when bacteria levels were high, just to shut down everything at the lake."

Cooper, who was hired last year, said he had asked why that was the case, but never had a good answer.

"Now we will keep the beach open and let kids play in the sand and just don't go in the water," Cooper said of when bacteria levels are high. "We did it last year and I think people appreciated it."

Cooper wants to have canoe, kayak and paddle-boat rentals next season, starting on weekends only.

"That very well may happen for us," he said.

Cooper also wants to raise the profile of Character Nights at the park, when families come to the patio at the concession area and kids pose for photos with characters like Elmo. "I want to have more entertainment there," he said.

A Lower Entrance Fee

Non-residents used to $16 per car to enter the lake side of the park.

Cooper said, "You get through the gate and then they wanted to use the water and we would whack them again."

Cooper proposed a lowering of the fee for out-of-towners to $10 with no additional fee to use the water and it was approved by the Parks & Recreation Commission and the Town Council.

He said the Parks & Recreation Commission had first raised the entrance fees in 2009.

At that time, the park made about $5,800 a year from non-residents, but since the rate hike, Cooper said it is now at $2,800 and shrinking. "So it's a business decision," he said of lowering the rates.

Town Councilman Tony Unger asked Cooper if he had statistics like that for the entire park, because he noted that the drop-off in revenue for the lake section started at a time of high gas prices, so there could be other factors.

Maintaining Water Quality

Town Councilwoman Dee Dee Martin asked if there was anything in Parks & Recreation's budget proposal to care for the water.

"Everyone has a lot of thoughts of where it's coming from," Cooper said of the bacteria. "But no one knows. E. coli is a natural bacteria. When we identify what the source is, then we can go forward with that."

But some measures are being taken already.

Cooper said the park will eliminate a portion of the beach on the north side by the volleyball area and do some plantings that can reduce runoff going into the water. The Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection and the Trumbull-Monroe Health District believes run off from there could be bringing in toxins, according to Cooper.

The inland wetlands project on Earth Day is also coming, he said of improvements along the lake.

Martin, who was on the building committee for Great Hollow Lake years ago, noted the poor sand quality back then and asked Cooper if his budget includes higher quality sand and more of it.

Cooper said no because he sees sand as more of a capital expense.

Town Council Chairwoman Enid Lipeles said if Monroe could improve the quality of the sand at the lake there could be sandcastle contests like they have in Milford.

Cooper says Monroe should do more to promote Great Hollow Lake.

"Some people want to get married on the lake," Cooper said. "Some things are untapped. Some companies found us. People want to use the lake. Why leave money on the table?"

Scott February 13, 2013 at 08:44 PM
Still will need to reduce all the geese crap that is in the water and on the beach. I bet that is also contributing to the high e coli levels.
christine February 13, 2013 at 08:51 PM
Oh, I would love boat rentals, love, love, love it!
Jacob's Mama February 13, 2013 at 09:04 PM
Yes on all of it! $10 per car is a reasonable fee to include the beach area for non residents. I would love to see more sand put down as well. Last year, it was more like dirt instead of sand. The character dinners are great and kids LOVE it. I buy the family resident membership but last year it was hardly used because of the bacteria in the lake and the issues with the pool.
Steven Goldstein February 13, 2013 at 09:10 PM
Love the lake but it needs to be dredged.had same problem on a lake I previously lived on.
m February 14, 2013 at 12:27 AM
Hard to believe we cannot find an expert to assess the eColi issue and make a solution recommendation. Rather than just speculating, lets figure it out!!!!
Alex February 14, 2013 at 02:09 AM
Looks like Mr. Cooper is making some good decisions. The fee drop on the beach makes a lot of sense. Why would someone pay so much for a lake beach when ocean beaches are a short drive and sometimes just as cheap. Dredging the lake would be nice, but also expensive if I recall unfortunately. That may be a project we need to save a few years for.
Big Boy February 14, 2013 at 10:36 AM
I remember bringing my children there years ago, but the conditions then were, well, gross. We also came away feeling like we needed to take a bath/shower ASAP. It is a beautiful picturesque environment, but something must be done about the E. coli situation. I guess the sand is tested as well ? For E. coli ? If we couldn't swim, we wouldn't want to play in the sand either. Mr. Cooper has some great ideas and a new set of eyes to look at the area is always good, usually! The boat rentals are a great idea. Maybe paddle boats are good for that type of lake. Actually, it is more like a large pond.
Sue Rhines February 14, 2013 at 02:25 PM
A lot of the charm of the lake area is because it isn't overdeveloped or overused. Leave it alone. People love the quiet as a place to walk or fish. Why can't people just see it for the lovely place it is. And I also believe lowering the fees for non residents is a mistake. More potential users mean a greater need for maintenance and who will eventually foot the bill for non residents: Monroe taxpayers.
jim laguardia February 14, 2013 at 02:43 PM
Maybe I read that wrong but a $38k maintenance position was added no questions asked??? For a park dept that spent 1/2 the summer with a 1/2 a pool and no lake..... And BoE is cutting 4.5 jobs????
Shannon February 14, 2013 at 02:55 PM
I agree with Sue Rhines, INCREASE the fees for non-residents. Towns like Greenwich, Stamford and Norwalk do this to keep non-residents out of their beaches. Taxes in Monroe are always increasing and we pay for the upkeep of the parks NOT the non-residents. Let non-residents pay more and lower fees for the Monroe tax payers.
Alex February 14, 2013 at 06:52 PM
The money collected with the fees is negligible. You'll keep the riff raff out just by having a fee (though anyone can enter the park for free from the rail trail). But charging people twice (one to enter and park, one to use the beach) is just bad management. I don't care if you want to raise it (even tho it will produce less revenue if you do so), but it needs to be one fee. FYI most ocean beaches are free, it just costs money to park, not actually use the beach.
Alex February 14, 2013 at 08:50 PM
As you noticed Walt those are all mostly parking costs. Find me a beach that charges you to enter (like what Great Hollow did), you'll find very few public town beaches that do so (Using Greenwich is a bad example IMO, as it's the exception more than the norm.). Anyone can park else where and walk to many of the beaches you listed, or have someone drop them off at the beach's gate for free in every case you listed. "The money collected with the fees is negligible" I'm referring to the money we collected at Great Hollow which was $2800 last year. Again, it is negligible.
Tom Barnaby February 14, 2013 at 09:20 PM
Not to get involved in a contest but,"Monroe Newcomers & Neighbors Club's annual Children's Music & Arts Festival raised $3,300 for technology in the town's three elementary schools. Representatives of the club presented a check to the Board of Education during its meeting Monday night" makes news and yet $2,800 is negligible. Perhaps we could round up a few benefactors to donate say $5,000 from private pockets to allow the "riff-raff" free admission.
Crown Royal February 15, 2013 at 05:11 PM
$2800 collected in 4 months. Memorial day to Labor Day. $3300 collected in 1 night. Why would we want the 'riff-raff' to use our parks free of charge?
Big Boy February 17, 2013 at 01:20 PM
Agree with Sue Rhinestone, sorry if I spelt it wrong, leave it alone. It's a beautiful place. Up the fees for non-residents, to keep the "riff raff" out and lower or no fees for residents with valid registered vehicle sticker. Too low a fee will bring in "riff raff" which MIGHT add to beef up security. The sand quality is a major problem. Patrons leave the area feeling as though they spent the day playing in the mud. We are a long way from building sand castles with the current sand. And with no place to wash off except the E. coli water, well...that's why it isn't used as a bathing area. If residents could bring their dogs in, they would chase the geese away and maybe that would help with the E. coli. Needless to say, one must clean up after their dog. There is also a "Goosen" machine that will suck up the goose dropping, but it probably costs as much or more than the additional 38k for another park employee. Anyone who thinks some mom would dredge the mile walk into the park through the rails to trails route lugging all that beach equipment required for young children to spend the day at the beach and then lug it all back just to save the non-resident entrance fee is either not a mom or doesn't have young children that day. Just improve the sand, number one priority!
Oldblooeyz February 17, 2013 at 11:43 PM
I wish something would be done to keep the out of towners from monopolizing the basketball courts
cash February 18, 2013 at 06:00 PM
I say do away with beach and keep the entire shoreline and surrounding areas as primative as possible, no need to exploit a serene area. Hiking, photograhy and fishing is just fine for the park. There will be no extra tax burden on residents already overpaying in this town .
Joe February 19, 2013 at 05:13 PM
I would like the department to improve the sand

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