Three million people visited Delaware State Parks in the past year, earning the parks the Tourism Partner of the Year Award from Southern Delaware Tourism.
Presented Dec. 6 at the Clubhouse at Baywood Greens, the award specifically honored Delaware State Parks’ Sussex County attractions, including Cape Henlopen State Park, Fort Miles, Delaware Seashore State Park, Holts Landing State Park, Fenwick Island State Park and Trap Pond State Park. Statewide, Delaware’s parks helped create $290 million in economic impact.
Bonnie Hall, co-chairwoman of Southern Delaware Tourism, said the parks also provide venues for popular Sussex County events such as Winter Wonderfest in Lewes and the Boo-B-Que Festival at Indian River Inlet.
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Shawn Garvin said, “It wasn’t until I became secretary that I truly understood the impact of our parks on our economy and on our tourism in Delaware, particularly our southern parks.”
Garvin thanked the employees and volunteers who contribute to the success of the parks.
“It really is a labor of love,” he said. “It’s part of the health of our community.”
For the first time ever, the awards featured a tie. The Best New Event award was split between the Fire and Ice Festival in Bethany Beach and the Ladybug Festival in Milford.
Held in late January, the Fire and Ice Festival, organized by Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, drew 4,000 visitors from 12 states and featured a sculpture tour with 22 ice sculptures, an ice rink, culinary tour and fire juggling performance.
The Sussex County Ladybug Music Festival, held in September in downtown Milford, was a day of music by female artists. Attracting nearly 3,000 visitors, presenter Jo Schmeiser, executive director of the Greater Milford Chamber of Commerce, said 40 artists played at 17 venues in downtown Milford. All of the acts featured female leads, as vocalists, guitarists or saxophonists. Schmeiser said the event will come back in September 2019.
Honors for Best Event went to the Mid-Atlantic Sea Glass and Coastal Arts Festival in Lewes. The event hosted 70 sea glass and art vendors, and 4,000 attendees over two days at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal.
Betsy Reamer, director of the Lewes Chamber of Commerce, said event founder Mike DiPaolo proposed the idea as a way to bring people to Lewes during the slow month of January.
“I knew they had hit a home run,” Reamer said in presenting the award. “I remember walking over the first day and people were lined up waiting to get in. It just grew and grew and grew.”
The award for Best Attraction went to a previous honoree: the Freeman Stage, which won Best Event honors in 2013.
Southern Delaware Tourism Chair Ben Gray said, “This attraction is the largest arts and cultural organization in Sussex County and the third largest in the state of Delaware. Through 11 seasons, more than half a million patrons have enjoyed an arts performance ranging from the Mid-Atlantic Orchestra to O.A.R.”
Gray said this year, visitors to the Freeman Stage brought in an estimated $3 million to the local economy.