The Town Council has approved a new Wolfe Park fee schedule that only includes one change — and it’s a price decrease.
At the recommendation of both the Parks and Recreation director and commission, vehicle entrance fees to Great Hollow Lake will go down in an effort to encourage more people to use that section of Wolfe Park.
“It’s not being used as much as it once was for a variety of reasons,” Parks and Recreation Director Frank Cooper told council members at a budget workshop.
The daily cost of a car to enter Great Hollow Lake will go from $16 to $10 for nonresidents, and from $8 to $5 for residents and Monroe business owners.
While Monroe residents can get annual park entrance stickers at no cost, some do not and end up paying the daily fees on occasion.
Use of Great Hollow Lake has been declining in recent years, and Cooper wants to find ways to attract more people to the facility separate from those using the athletic fields near the lake.
Lowering entrance fees is one way.
Some of the other ideas are to find a vendor to rent canoes, kayaks and paddle boats on weekends; establish a formal garden; introduce new characters at the children’s character dinners; and add new forms of family entertainment.
“There needs to be an attraction to bring people there who aren’t there for sports,” Cooper said.
The number of people paying to enter Great Hollow Lake has dropped significantly, he said, with nonresident fee revenue about half of what it was four years ago. “They just aren’t coming,” Cooper said.
In contrast, the Wolfe Park pool seems to be attracting larger crowds every year.
“We can do better,” Cooper said of getting people to spend time at the 16-acre manmade lake.
He said the limited activity outside of youth athletic games can present a challenge for the concession vendor at the lake.
Some of the issues at Great Hollow Lake have involved water quality, sand quality and quantity, the lake’s muddy bottom, and a growing preference to use the newer swimming pool at Wolfe Park.
Problems with high bacteria counts in the water have led to the lake being closed on occasion. Beginning last year, Cooper changed the policy so while “No Swimming” signs are put up when bacteria counts are high, people still are welcome to spend time at the beach if they stay out of the water.
“You can still walk on the beach and kids can play in the sand,” he said.
The previous policy was “just scaring people,” Cooper said.
Some landscaping changes to add plantings to cut down on run-off into the lake are expected to be made, based on recommendations of state environmental and local public health officials.
An area of potential revenue growth for the lake is allowing companies and organizations to use the area for team-building activities, Cooper said. He also said he has received a request to hold a wedding ceremony at the lake this year.
“We’re leaving a lot of these avenues untapped,” he said.
Cooper said Wolfe Park picnic rentals remain strong, including by people from outside Monroe. “Nonresidents are a very large income source,” he said.
The Great Hollow Lake situation was discussed during a Town Council workshop on the Parks and Recreation Department.
The department is seeking an almost 14% increase to $836,000, which would include a new full-time parks maintenance worker. Cooper pointed out his department is responsible for maintaining not just parks but also municipal grounds such as Town Hall, the library and senior center. This includes snowplowing.
The four tennis courts at Wolfe Park will need to be upgraded in the future, according to Cooper. Public use of the courts has declined as their condition has deteriorated. The Masuk High School tennis team also uses the courts.
Cooper is seeking business sponsors to fund the annual summer concert series at Wolfe Park, which may be switched to Friday from Sunday evenings.
Another long-term project is to build a splash pool for children at Wolfe Park, which is not included in the budget request.
Summer camps at Chalk Hill?
There is uncertainty if Parks & Rec will be able to use the Chalk Hill building — now home to Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School — for summer camp programs.
Cooper said he hopes he doesn’t have to find an alternative location. And even if summer camps can take place at Chalk Hill, they likely will have to end earlier than usual in August so the building can be prepared for the start of the new school year for Sandy Hook Elementary.