For only the second time in Sussex County history, county council has waded into the parks business.
Council approved a conceptual plan to develop a 20-acre park at the site of the former Woodland Golf Course west of Seaford, a tract acquired by the county as part of a project to dredge the Nanticoke River.
It was Council President Mike Vincent, R-Seaford, who cast the deciding vote after a prolonged debate during the July 15 meeting. George Cole, R-Ocean View, and Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach, voted in favor of the proposal while Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, and Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, voted against it.
“There are many beautiful parks and outdoor spaces in the county, especially at the beach, but fewer options farther inland,” Vincent said. “I’m hopeful this new park gives the public one more area where they can walk, bike or simply sit outside to enjoy the beauty and splendor that is Sussex County.”
The most vocal opponent, Phillips said the project sets a precedent.
“We have steadfastly resisted the temptation to go toward a parks and recreation department,” he said. “This has all the earmarks in that direction. There will be other towns wanting a park.”
He said a county should have a partner before moving forward. “There is going to be a temptation to keep putting money into this; we are opening a financial can of worms,” he said.
Council approved the base project – with a Skip Gardner memorial area, about 5,000 feet of walking trails in a natural wildlife setting, signage, fencing and parking improvements – at an estimated cost of nearly $143,000. Gardner was developer and owner of the golf course.
The Woodland Park joins the James Farm Ecological Preserve near Ocean View, donated to the county in the 1990s and managed by the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, as the only public parks owned by the county.
“I have no trouble moving forward,” said Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View. “There is always potential to get a partner.”
Like Cole, Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach, said she supported the base project. “I'm confident we will get the remaining grant money; there are a lot of people very interested in this,” she said.
Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, said he was against the project because of the cost and the fact that it was so far outside of Seaford city limits. “We do not need to start county parks,” he said.
Other options developed by a working group of Seaford-area residents include a dog park, fishing pier, outdoor classroom, restrooms, observation platforms, bird habitat and butterfly garden. County engineer Mike Izzo said the options – estimated to cost $133,000 – are at the discretion of council.
The park will require maintenance; Izzo said county staff monitors an adjacent dredge spoils site about twice a week; maintenance of the park would be worked into that schedule.
Bidding for the project is expected to begin within 45 days, and construction could begin as early as October, with completion expected by the end of the year. Funding for the project is expected to come through state grants the county is pursuing, as well as county capital funds budgeted this fiscal year.
Phillips said the project should not move forward without state grants to cover the entire cost. So far, the county has secured $107,000 in grants.
County council members suggested partnering with a friends group or similar organization. Phillips supported that idea. “And the sooner we sign the deed over to them, the happier I'll be,” Phillips said.