HAMDEN — Sleeping Giant State Park reopened to the public Friday, June 14, allowing visitors to enjoy the space for the first time since last year’s tornado.
The office of Gov. Ned Lamont announced the plan for the reopening of the park in a release Thursday morning.
“The park has been closed since May 15, 2018, when a tornado touched down on the park, completely decimating trees in the lower portion and causing significant damage elsewhere in the area,” officials said in the release. “Work has been underway for many months to remove thousands of damaged trees and make the park safe for visitors. Much of the tree work and clearing on the extensive trail network was accomplished by volunteers and coordinated by the Sleeping Giant Park Association. Final work on restoration of the main ‘Tower Trail’ was completed earlier this week.”
Lamont, DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes and SGPA President Mike Miller expressed their pleasure at the development in the release.
“I am pleased that this restoration work has been completed and we are again able to open this popular state park to our residents and visitors,” Lamont said. “I look forward in the coming weeks to getting out onto the trails at Sleeping Giant and seeing the restoration work first hand. I want to thank all of the DEEP staff, contractors, and most especially the Sleeping Giant Park Association and their volunteers whose generous work over these many months helped get us to this point.”
“We know that the Sleeping Giant State Park reopening will be welcome news to so many people who love hiking with friends and family at the park, and are anxious to get back to these trails,” Dykes said. “We are excited that the park is now ready to again welcome hikers to its many trails and vistas. We are grateful to the Sleeping Giant Park Association, which rallied so many members of our community to come forward to speed the restoration efforts.”
“I want to thank all of our association members and volunteers who invested so much time and effort restoring the extensive trail network at the ‘Giant’ to a safe condition, and I want to also thank the state and DEEP for allowing our association to have played such a significant role in this important work,” Miller said.
The park was closed immediately after the tornado, which sheared and damaged a host of trees.
“It just changed the landscape so much. You couldn’t see the top of the mountain from my porch — and now I can. It’s just so different — I can’t believe it,” said Park Supervisor Jill Scheibenpflug in the days after the tornado. “You can’t even explain it. It looks like a bomb went off.”
The effort to the restore the park cost approximately $735,000, according to the release. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to reimburse approximately 75 percent of that total.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, also welcomed the news about the park, which is in her district.
“Sleeping Giant is one of the natural treasures of Connecticut’s Third District, and I am glad it will reopen tomorrow for all to enjoy. When natural disasters strike, the federal government has a key role to play in making communities and families whole,” DeLauro said in a statement. “That is why I was proud to work with my colleagues in Congress and state officials to ensure FEMA funded this relief following last year’s tornadoes. Thank you to all of the workers and volunteers who helped make this possible so quickly — job well done.”
DeLauro also noted in the release that she this week “secured an amendment in the Appropriations Committee-passed FY2020 Department of Homeland Security funding bill reminding” FEMA that the agency has “authority to provide federal assistance for personal debris removal following natural disasters.”
“Last year, many Connecticut homeowners incurred tens of thousands of dollars in debris removal costs from tornadoes, but were unable to be reimbursed by FEMA under current law,” the release said.
A “master planning effort” for the future of the area around Sleeping Giant will take place in the coming months, according to Lamont’s release. A series of public meetings are expected to be held, allowing officials to consider “ideas from the public about what changes or improvements they recommend.”
Sleeping Giant will be open every day from 8 a.m. to sunset.