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Sleepy Hole keeps drawing crowds

One of Suffolk’s popular destinations for outdoor families had steady business despite some relative differences between fiscal years.

Sleepy Hole Park had a total of 237 total reservations for picnic shelters in fiscal year 2017, which generated $10,632, according to Suffolk Parks and Recreation assistant director Helen Gabriel. That’s both more than the $9,275 generated in fiscal year 2016, and fewer than the 368 total reservations that same year.

There was also a drop from 15,414 recorded visitors in fiscal year 2016 to 13,472 in fiscal year 2017.

Gabriel said the average annual operating cost for Sleepy Hole is $12,700. While this equals a deficit for the park, the value of its 66 acres more than makes up for that, she said.

“You say ‘oh, the park operates at a loss,’ but when you look at parks and open space as a parks and recreation professional, you look at the essential services for residents and tourists that come and use the park,” she said.

Most of the revenue is generated by rentals for the 12 picnic shelters in the park. Reunions, birthdays, graduations and other gatherings drive these reservations, though they are also available on a first-come, first-served basis, Gabriel said.

“Most people end up at Sleepy Hole because they need multiple shelters that are close to one another,” she said. “You can still feel like your event is cozy and not spread out over the whole park.”

The difference in reservations between the two fiscal years can be partly attributed to parties renting multiple shelters instead of just one, Gabriel said. Even though more than one may be reserved by a party, that still goes in the books as one rental.

Gabriel said that despite these fluctuations, the park’s numerous offerings have kept visitors interested in recent years.

Children run to the playground, walk the trails or check out the butterfly garden. Fishermen bring their rods to the 360-foot-long pier that was opened to the public in April 2016, while water enthusiasts take advantage of the kayak launch.

Gabriel said she received a series of calls from families interested in coming to the park for the Aug. 21 eclipse.

“It’s difficult for me to put a dollar amount to that, but I can guarantee you that intrinsic value is greater that what we spend to maintain the park,” she said. “The benefit they get for quality of life and for health and wellness is immeasurable.”