Responsible Recreation 

Responsible Recreation logo

Connecticut's state parks, state forests, and wildlife management areas are ours to enjoy now. We want them to be enjoyed for future generations as well. So it is up to all of us to take care of these natural resources. This means we can enjoy the recreational activities of our choosing, but do it responsibly.

Staying safe outdoors means:

  • Plan ahead; purchase hunting and fishing licenses online and check if a state park is open or closed before heading out.
  • Visit less-traveled outdoor spaces where you can avoid crowds.
  • Follow the rules posted at outdoor spaces.
  • Pack out your trash - Leave No Trace!
  • When visiting state parks, forests, and wildlife management areas, park only in designated parking areas and do not park along roadways or pull off into grassy areas. Also, please drive cautiously to avoid running over animals in roadways, such as snakes and turtles.
  • Share your adventures in a respectful way on social media outlets.
  • You are responsible for your own safety, as well as the safety of others around you.
Learn about other ways to recreate responsibly while visiting the Connecticut outdoors:

Wildlife Viewing Ethics | Keep Wildlife Wild  | Dogs  |  Leave What You Find  |  Fishing Line  |  Litter, Balloons, and More  |  Fires  |  Mountain Biking  |  Off-road Vehicles  |  The Recovering America's Wildlife Act

Wildlife Viewing Ethics

Connecticut's diverse outdoor areas and habitats, from forests to coastal areas, offer residents the perfect opportunity to view some amazing wildlife, such as the more common white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and bobcat to the more elusive and not so common moose, bald eagle, and occasional visiting snowy owl or other rare bird. However, everyone needs to responsibly view wildlife in a way that is safe for them and fun for us.

  • Resist the temptation to move closer to the animal to get a photograph or better view.
  • Give wildlife plenty of space with a wide escape route.
  • Be alert for changes in the animal's normal behaviors (i.e., it moves away from you or is looking at you). If the animal reacts or freezes, you are too close and should back away! What the animal needs is most likely more space and some privacy. Respect these amazing animals by knowing when to leave.
  • Invest in optics, such as binoculars and spotting scopes, or upgrade your camera gear with a strong zoom lens, to view or photograph wildlife up close while maintaining a safe distance.
  • Be respectful to both wildlife and people who are also wildlife watching or participating in other outdoor activities nearby.
  • Consider mentoring others—offer those new to wildlife viewing a peek through your spotting scope or glimpse through your binoculars.
  • Always respect private property and do not trespass to observe wildlife.
  • Be aware of your surroundings—avoid blocking traffic, park safely, and follow any local rules.
  • Drones should not be used to help you get a closer look. Animals perceive them differently than we do; some species view them as predators and will drastically alter their normal behavior, which can have life or death consequences. Drone use can be considered harassment of wildlife.
  • Never feed wildlife. Feeding wildlife is dangerous for wildlife and people. Sharing your food can sicken an animal or encourage it to approach humans in the future, expecting a snack.
  • Model good wildlife viewing ethics and lead by setting good examples of ethical behavior. You will be rewarded by magical moments in nature.

Keep Wildlife Wild

  • Always observe wildlife from a distance. Do not approach or follow wildlife to get a better photo or video.
  • Avoid observing wildlife during sensitive times, such as mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
  • Leave pets at home. Otherwise, always keep your dog on a leash to keep it, yourself, and wildlife safe.
  • Do not feed wildlife—let them feed themselves with natural foods. In particular, feeding waterfowl bread and other unhealthy and non-natural foods at local ponds and lakes is potentially harmful to the birds. (Do Not Feed Waterfowl brochure)
  • Whether hiking, camping, or at home, store food and trash safely, securely, and out of reach.
  • If you care, leave it there! Never remove wild animals from the wild. Learn what to do if you find a potentially injured or orphaned animal. Animals also should not be collected to keep as pets; oftentimes, this is against the law.
  • More from Leave No Trace - Center for Outdoor Ethics: Wildlife at Risk

Hiking Responsibly with Dogs

Keeping dogs on leashes when visiting outdoor spaces protects the dogs, you, and wildlife.

The DEEP has rules regarding pets in state parks, state forests, and wildlife management areas that are posted on signs and on our website. However, it is really up to dog owners to follow the rules and understand how devastating dogs can be to wildlife. Most dog owners follow the rules. But, those who do not can have a profound impact on wildlife.

  • Scientific evidence supports the fact that dogs are a threat and cause disturbance to wildlife. They are perceived by wildlife as predators, no different than foxes or coyotes. Ground-nesting birds are easily disturbed by dogs and may abandon or lose their nests if constantly disturbed. Dogs also chase wildlife, including their helpless offspring.
  • The majority of Connecticut State Parks allow dogs, but according to state regulations the dogs must be on a leash no longer than 7-feet and under the control of the owner or keeper at all times. The shoreline parks of Harkness, Rocky Neck, and Silver Sands prohibit dogs on the beach year-round. Leashed dogs are allowed on the beach at Hammonasset Beach State Park ONLY from September 30 through April 1, but they are not allowed at Sherwood Island State Park, anywhere in the park, from April 15-September 30. The “no dogs on the beach” rule provides protection for beach-nesting shorebirds, like piping plovers and least terns. Before bringing your dog to one of the state parks, check “Related Information” on each individual park webpage on the DEEP website to read the rules for pets.
  • state regulation specific to wildlife management areas, such as Sessions Woods and Barn Island, requires dogs to be on a leash no longer than 7 feet and under the control of their owner or keeper, and the person responsible for the dog must hold the leash at all times. The only exception to the leash rule is dogs in the act of hunting or training for hunting. Wildlife management areas have been set aside primarily for the conservation of wildlife populations and their habitat. Public use of these areas, including dog walking, is a benefit, but not the main reason for their existence.
  • All dog owners should clean up after their dogs when visiting outdoor spaces. According to state regulations, owners must remove and properly dispose of pet waste left by the pet or riding animal under their control. Not only is it part of being a responsible pet owner, but it also reduces human, dog, and wildlife exposures to potentially harmful bacteria and parasites, which can compromise their (or an animal's) immune system.
  • Dog owners are also encouraged to become familiar with dog and leash regulations for town properties, land trusts, and properties owned by non-governmental organizations, such as Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and others, before heading to those areas.

Leash rules also provide protection for dogs and their owners. Leashed dogs are less likely to interact with other dogs on trails, as well as other hikers and walkers who may also have a fear of dogs. Leashed dogs have a lower chance of coming into contact with wild animals, such as black bears and coyotes, that may cause them and their owners harm if the animal is startled or trying to protect their young. If your dog is hiking with you, it is imperative that you keep the dog on a SHORT leash and DO NOT let it roam free – this is for the safety of your dog, yourself, and wildlife. 

Person walking a dog on a beach in an area marked no dogs.

Even though the dog is on a leash, this person is irresponsibly recreating by walking her dog near an area fenced and posted (see the "No Dogs" sign) for nesting shorebirds.

Hiker walking with a dog on a leash.

Responsible Recreation is keeping your dog on a leash (less than 7 feet) while visiting state parks, state forests, and wildlife management areas and obeying posted rules.

Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past: examine, photograph, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants, insects, wildlife, and other natural objects as you find them. State regulations prohibit the removal of items from state parks, forests, and wildlife areas.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures or dig trenches.

Recover Fishing Line and Tackle

Carelessly discarded fishing line and tackle can seriously harm or kill wildlife. Animals can become entangled in, or ingest, the line, which can cause starvation, strangulation, and deep wounding. Wildlife usually cannot survive the injuries they sustain from entanglements. Monofilament fishing line recycling receptacles have been installed at inland and coastal sites around the state to encourage less waste line in the environment. The disposed fishing line is collected by volunteers and then sent to a company that recycles it to make underwater habitat structures for fish. Find a fishing line recycling receptacle near you!

Dead osprey hanging from its nesting platform because it was tangled in fishing line.

This osprey met a tragic and untimely death due to entanglement in fishing line at its nest platform in Old Lyme. Ospreys "decorate" their nests with trash they find on the ground and in the water. Tangled fishing line is often found on nesting platforms, posing danger to adults and their young. Photo courtesy of Hank Golet.

Litter, Balloons, and More

Litter in our open spaces has always been a problem. All of this litter on beaches and at state parks, state forests, and wildlife management areas is not only bad for the environment, it can also be deadly to wildlife. Some of the trash items being found include beverage bottles, plastic bags and wrappers, plastic cups and straws, food containers, balloons, waste fishing line, and more. People should not be leaving these items behind and expect other visitors, or town and DEEP employees to pick up after them. Everyone should be recreating responsibly and take out what they take in – LEAVE NO TRACE. Most Connecticut state parks provide dumpsters in central locations where visitors can put trash. Experience has shown that individual, smaller and less secure trash cans become filled rapidly, with trash spilling outside and creating a mess, attracting predators and requiring more constant cleaning by staff.

Besides cleaning up after ourselves, there are other ways you can help reduce the amount of trash:

  • Recycle bottles, plastics, and cardboard instead of disposing of them in the trash.
  • Properly dispose of mesh produce bags, expired medication, cigarette butts, plastic gloves, face masks, and other items. Our "What Do I Do With" webpage provides a wealth of information on how to dispose of or recycle certain items.
  • Switch to reusable water bottles, cups, straws, and food containers.
  • Instead of releasing balloons, find an environmentally friendly way to celebrate an event or memorialize a loved one. Balloons and their strings come back to the ground as litter and can be deadly to wildlife. Large balloon releases (10 or more in a 24-hour period) are illegal in Connecticut -- but no balloons should be released at all.
  • Avoid releasing sky lanterns. According to the Connecticut Fire Prevention Code, the use of unmanned, freeā€floating sky lanterns and similar devices utilizing an open flame are prohibited. Not only do sky lanterns pose a fire hazard, they can travel for miles and then come down to the ground as dangerous litter. Sky lanterns are often marketed as “biodegradable” or “earth- friendly,” but that is not true. They are made with treated paper, wires and/or a bamboo ring and, once back on the ground, those items can also be deadly to wildlife -- just like balloons.

Be Fire Safe

The DEEP's Forest Fire Control Office urges all who enjoy the use of Connecticut's parks, forests, and open spaces to use fires with caution and heed the following recommendations, especially during forest fire season:

  • Know when the fire seasons occur in Connecticut (high forest fire danger usually occurs in spring from mid-March through May, but can also occur in summer and fall during periods of drought).
  • Check the daily Fire Danger Report to stay up-to-date on conditions or sign up to receive notifications through the Forest Fire Danger Listserve.
  • Obey local laws regarding open fires, including campfires;
  • Keep all flammable objects away from fire;
  • Have firefighting tools nearby and handy;
  • Carefully dispose of hot charcoal and ash;
  • Drown all fires;
  • Carefully extinguish smoking materials.

Protection of our natural resources is a team effort. Connecticut has a crew of highly-trained wildlands firefighters—the Interstate Fire Crew—made up of staff from DEEP’s Fisheries, Forestry, and Wildlife Divisions, other programs, and some municipal firefighters. Not only does our fire crew help protect the habitats Connecticut’s wildlife call home, they provide assistance across the country to protect the natural resources both people and wildlife rely on.

Mountain Biking

  • Mountain bikes can be used on all designated multi-use trails in Connecticut state parks and forests, unless posted otherwise. Maps are available for specific areas on the State Parks maps page.
  • The CT Blue-Blazed Trail System is for foot traffic only. The portions of this trail system that cross State property are maintained by Connecticut Forest and Park Association volunteers and are designated as hiking trails. Please refrain from riding mountain bikes and horses on these marked trails.
  • Connecticut State Parks, Forests, and Wildlife Management Areas are open every day from 8 a.m. to sunset. Therefore, night-riding is prohibited.
  • It is the responsibility of bikers to ensure that their use of the trails does not impair that of other trail users, or damage the trails themselves. The actions of a few individuals often speak for a whole group, and mountain bikers are no exception. When mountain biking, be aware that you will be sharing trails with hikers, equestrians, hunters, and others. A set of guidelines has been adopted which is intended to minimize conflict with other user groups.

All Terrain and Off-road Vehicle Use in Connecticut

Effective January 1, 2006, except where specifically allowed, riding an all terrain vehicle (ATV) on state or municipal property may result in charges of criminal trespass (Public Act 05-234). At the current time, Connecticut does not have any public areas open to quads. Additionally, there are no State-managed areas open to dirt bikes, although the Army Corps of Engineers facility at Thomaston Dam is available for two-wheeled trail bike riding. For information on how access issues are being addressed, please review the DEEP's policy for the development and use of ATVs on state land. (Outdoor recreation ATV webpage)

Snowmobiling: There are 11 designated areas within Connecticut State Forests where the use of snowmobiles on established trails and forest roads is authorized. More Information

ATV Use in Hunting: All un-gated roads in Connecticut State Forests and Wildlife Management Areas are accessible to paraplegics using all terrain vehicles with the proper DEEP permits. In order to qualify, applicants must provide documented proof of the disability with its physical limitations in a letter signed by a licensed physician. Applicants should call the Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011 for more information.

The Recovering America's Wildlife Act

Find out how you can support this important national legislative effort to keep common fish and wildlife species common. A successful effort will secure funding for much-needed conservation of our most precious natural resources, our fish and wildlife. #RecoverWildlife

Find Us on Facebook logo   Instagram logo   Twitter logo

Content last updated in January 2024.