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?"