Wilton’s Parks and Recreation Commission is seeking feedback on last summer’s Merwin Meadows pass policy that allowed town residents to access the park for free, charging admission only for non-residents and guests. The commissioners have created an online survey to find out what residents and non-residents alike think of the policy and are asking people to offer their comments and constructive criticism.

Under the initiative, residents were able to obtain seasonal or day passes at no charge and also purchase guest day passes. Non-residents could obtain seasonal or day passes for a fee. All passes were distributed at Wilton Parks and Recreation office at the Comstock Community Center during normal business hours.

The Commission would like to hear what residents and non-residents think of the new policy including whether they were satisfied with the payment structure and if they would suggest any changes to the policy.

“At one of our commission meetings last fall, we were talking about how the policy worked, getting feedback from [Parks & Rec director] Steve Pierce about overall response from residents. One of our commissioners said we should survey users of the park–residents and non-residents–because what we had was anecdotal, which is helpful, but we really wanted to have real feedback directly from the residents,” explains Parks & Rec. Commission chair Sarah Gioffre.

In an interview last year, Pierce reported that response was strong over the 2016 summer season. “More residents than ever have obtained family passes for Merwin and we have had steady sales of day passes to both residents and nonresidents alike. Overall it was a successful summer,” he said at the time.

But given that this year’s budget season is just starting to heat up, the question of whether to continue the practice of not charging residents will likely be raised by town officials–especially because budgets will be extremely tight for FY’18. The Board of Finance has given the Selectmen the guidance of reducing this year’s budget 1.25-percent from the FY’17 numbers–which were already lower than FY’16 budget numbers to begin with.

Opting for an initiative that doesn’t charge residents by definition takes in less income than it could–which makes it highly likely that the choice to give residents park passes for free may be examined more closely. Gioffre says she knows it’s a “tough budget environment,” so any concrete data she can bring with her come budget time is helpful.

“We want to have that feedback should any questions come up about the policy and why it was put in, just to be prepared with feedback from people who actually use the park. The Parks & Rec Department would like to keep the policy the same, and the Commission would probably agree with that,” Gioffre says, who adds that the Parks & Rec budget is still in the early stages of being put together and nothing will be proposed to the selectmen until sometime in February.

The survey will be available online through the end of January, and is also posted on the Parks & Rec. website and the Parks and Recreation Facebook page. Respondents have the option of sharing their names and email addresses with the commission or answering anonymously.

For more information, please contact Gioffre at 203.984.7179 or Pierce at 203.834.6234.