Cape Henlopen State Park turns 50 this year, and there will be plenty of activities to mark the milestone occasion. It is Delaware’s largest state park at 5,320 acres. The park is renowned for its five miles of beautiful ocean beaches, dynamic dune environment, stunning coastal and tidal wetland views, woodland trails, and a rich cultural and historic heritage. There is an Observation Tower (an old World War II fire control tower open to the public that features 115 steps to the top highlighting expansive vistas. More than 1.5 million people flock to the park every year.
In fact, Cape Henlopen State Park ranked fourth in a USA Today poll of the most popular state parks. In addition to the park’s historical significance, its natural features make it stand out; including its salt marshes, maritime forest, the great dune and the endangered piping plover and other shorebirds.
Along with the popular swimming beaches and family campground, it also includes a quarter-mile-long fishing pier that stretches into the Delaware Bay. The Cape’s Great Dune is one of the highest coastal points between Cape Hatteras and Cape Cod. The Seaside Nature Center houses an aquarium and a gift shop, and hosts year-round activities for all ages.
Recently, as part of the 50th anniversary celebration, the new four-mile Gordons Pond Trail was unveiled - another link in Gov. Jack Markell’s Trails and Pathways initiative. The trail, featuring an elevated boardwalk and multiple scenic overlooks, joins Delaware’s more than 160 miles of state parks trails, and is part of a nearly 15-mile regional trail loop that connects Rehoboth Beach and Lewes, and physically links the northern and southern sections of the park.
The area has a long and extensive history. The land was set aside by William Penn as part of the Warner Grant. In 1762, it hosted the sixth lighthouse in the colonies. Two lighthouses still stand on breakwaters visible from the park. Over the decades, the land housed a quarantine station for Philadelphia immigrants, a Life-Saving Station, World War I defenses, World War II’s Fort Miles, and served as a Soviet Submarine Listening Post (SOSUS) during the Cold War. By the 1960s, the U.S. military had no further use for the area, and it came under the purview of DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation in 1964.
Not only is Cape Henlopen State Park celebrating, but the Cape May-Lewes Ferry is also marking 50 years of service to Delaware’s residents and visitors. In honor of the milestone, a special fireworks presentation will be held Sunday, June 29, at 9:15 p.m. from the Cape Henlopen State Park fishing pier. Fireworks spectators may park at the main beach parking lot at Cape Henlopen. The fishing pier will close at 6 a.m., Sunday, June 29, to allow for preparation. This special event is presented by the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, the Friends of Cape Henlopen State Park and DNREC’s Delaware State Parks. The fireworks display is being provided by Pyrotecnico.
After the fireworks, visitors can avoid the heavy traffic exiting the park by reserving a campsite at Cape Henlopen’s popular campground. As an incentive, the park is offering a 25 percent discount on camping registration for the night of Sunday, June 29. In addition, families and individuals are encouraged to take advantage of Cape Henlopen’s public programs, including a kayak eco-tour of the Delaware Breakwater at 10 a.m., June 29 or kayak and paddleboard rentals to customize a paddling trip.
Campers arriving early Saturday, June 28, are invited to tour Battery 519 at Fort Miles, learn about nature’s wonders around a campfire or visit the touch tank at the Seaside Nature Center.
Information is available at destateparks.com and 302-645-6852.