Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation officials have unveiled a major wish list of projects to sustain Cape Henlopen State Park well into the future.
The public was invited to a June 13 open house at the park's officer's club to view the proposed improvements and talk with staff.
The division is seeking public input on improvements, including the Biden Environmental Education Center, campground expansion, Fort Miles Museum and Historical Area, park office, trail system, utility upgrades, bathrooms and food service amenities.
Included on the list are $79.9 million worth of projects covering nearly every venue the park has to offer. Last year, Cape Henlopen became the most visited park in Delaware with 1.7 million visitors, up from 1.3 million five years ago. Camping nights have increased nearly 90 percent over the past decade.
The park is setting attendance records every year, and the campground is nearly at 100 percent occupancy between June and August. Occupancy averages around 75 to 80 percent in the spring and fall.
“We have to adapt to plan for the future as the popularity of the park grows,” said Greg Abbott, administrative services section director.
State park officials have ranked the list of 30 projects based on a system that takes into account safety, revenue impact, asset preservation and external funding availability.
Surfacing at the top are: sewer treatment plant replacement to connect to the Lewes BPW system, $5.5 million; Biden Center renovations, $11.5 million; main bathhouse parking lot renovation and repaving, $1.7 million; replacement of all water lines, $1 million; improvements to what is referred to as the Wave Building operated by the University of Delaware, $3 million; a new park office and improved park access roads, $6.5 million; and widening the Gordons Pond Trail boardwalk from 6 feet to 10 feet, $1 million.
There is funding for a new bathroom at the Wolfe Neck trailhead, sewer connection to the Lewes wastewater system, main parking lot paving and a new Wolfe Neck trail system, said Shauna McVey, Delaware State Parks community relations coordinator.
In addition, she said, $6.5 million is available of the $11 million needed for the Biden Center, and planning funds for a new park office, Fort Miles improvements and campground expansion.
Trail improvements and a proposed new restaurant are separate projects.
Abbott said many of the projects are being evaluated and will proceed when funding is available.
Projects already included in the 2021-24 parks statewide capital plan are sewer system upgrades, work at the Biden Center and $300,000 for fishing pier repairs.
Repaving of the main parking lot will take place this fall. The park maintains 19 miles of roads and 13 parking lots with 2,084 spaces.
Although not high on the priority list, park officials have recognized the need for a new fishing pier. The project is estimated to cost $16.3 million. Over the past 15 years, the division has spent nearly $2 million in repairs.
Officials are also looking at ways to expand the popular park campground, which has 186 sites and 12 cabins.
A future restaurant?
This past spring, La Vida Hospitality was awarded a one-year contract to operate the concession area at the Sen. David McBride Bathhouse. The agreement includes an option to negotiate a 24-year amendment to construct a restaurant at the northern end of the bathhouse parking lot. The $4 million project would be funded with private funds.
“The division and La Vida both are evaluating the feasibility, details and public interest in the proposed development prior to determination of a path forward for the restaurant,” said McVey.
La Vida operates several restaurants in the area, including Big Chill Beach Club at Delaware Seashore State Park, Crooked Hammock Brewery, Taco Reho and Big Chill Surf Cantina.
Work at Biden Center
In a project already underway, the Biden Environmental Education Center – built in 1962 by the U.S. Navy – will receive a major overhaul, including all new mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, accessibility improvements, a catering kitchen, a large conference room, classrooms, overnight accommodations, private restrooms, exterior improvements and new emergency egress stairs. Work underway includes removal of the sidewalk, remediation and demolition of the building's interior.
McVey said the goal is to have all funding in place to complete the project at one time. If not, she said, the project will be broken down into two phases.
More trails in plan
The approved trail master plan includes nearly 16 new miles of trails – 13.8 for bicyclists and pedestrians, and 1.9 miles for equestrian use in the winter – focusing on accessibility and multi-use. When completed, the park will have 35 miles of trails.
Proposed is a new 6-mile Wolfe Neck Trail loop opening up an area of the park that has been closed. In a joint project with Sussex County officials, the area, which was a spray-irrigation field for the Wolfe Neck wastewater treatment facility, is being reclaimed as woods. The estimated cost of the loop project is $1.75 million.
Engineers are currently studying a way to expand the popular Gordons Pond Trail boardwalk from 6 feet to 10 feet by extending it two feet on each side.
The park's trail master plan provides guidance for the next five to 10 years.
The Wave Building
Although most visitors are not aware the Wave Building exists, a plan for exterior improvements is high on the list. Abbott said the building dates back to the Fort Miles era in the 1940s and not much work has been done on it since.
The building houses the park enforcement office, and the University of Delaware takes up most of the space with a research wave pool.
Water, sewer upgrades
Infrastructure projects are among the highest ranked. Park officials said the water and sewer infrastructure is in need of major overhaul, with some of the lines dating back 80 years. Water is supplied to the park by Lewes BPW using significant sections of the original Fort Miles water system.
Officials will eliminate the park's wastewater treatment plant and connect to the Lewes system. McVey said that project could take place in the spring of 2023.
Upgrades also include eight new bathrooms, including facilities at Herring Point and Gordons Pond.
Officials are also looking at ways to improve the park's access to reduce congestion, minimize trail-road crossings, improve traffic flow throughout the park and provide a camper bypass route. A new park office would offer more space for staff, provide public restrooms and enlarge the parking area.
More information on the statewide parks capital plan:
Take a survey at:
Information displayed at Cape Henlopen Park open house: