State and local officials and Fort Miles Historical Association volunteers gathered July 11 to officially dedicate the Great Dune Overlook project in Cape Henlopen State Park. The $1 million project features a 10,000-square-foot events venue – with a 6,000-square-foot concrete pad overlooking the Atlantic Ocean – a new overlook on the trail leading to the venue, a geothermal HVAC system, and a new glass wall and doors leading to the north end of the Fort Miles Museum in Battery 519. The project also includes new power boxes and lighting, and a new access road, along with a paved 130-space parking lot with direct access to the museum.
Inside the bunker, new carpet has been added and many more improvements are in the works, said association Executive Director Mark Chura, including new lighting and visual and sound equipment.
“Today, we are officially opening the door to all that,” said Chura, construction manager. He said the work was in partnership with Delaware State Parks.
“They have been shoulder to shoulder with us for 20 years,” said association President Gary Wray. “This was a total team effort. The state owns it, and we help it along.”
He said the volunteer Bunker Busters donated more than 17,000 hours last year.
The majority of funding for the project came from foundations, including a $700,000 donation from Longwood Foundation, and Delaware General Assembly.
The events venue is open to the public, and can be rented for weddings and other events with proceeds going to support the museum. Chura said packages are available to rent the events pad or the entire museum – the first wedding took place June 8 – and he said there’s no extra charge for the $1 million view of the Atlantic Ocean. “This is the highest point on the ocean in the Mid-Atlantic area with the best view, and now we have a state-of-the-art support facility,” Chura said.
During most events, public access to the venue will be cut off by a gate on the trail leading up to the site.
Wray said he and the late Lee Jennings had a vision 15 years ago of an events venue at Battery 519. “I never dreamed it would turn out this beautiful,” he said.
Wray said the project would have never happened without Chura’s leadership. “We get the glow, but he put in the sweat,” he said.
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Shawn Garvin called Fort Miles the hidden gem of the state and the park system.
“Cape Henlopen State Park is one of the finest parks in the country, and this is one of the most significant historical sites in the country,” said Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes.
“Out of sand, they have created something wonderful,” said House Speaker Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. “We are proud to have played a small part to get as much money as we can. We had a good year and were able to get even more.”
Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Lewes, thanked the veterans who were continuing their service as Fort Miles volunteers.
“This facility is what makes this park so special,” said Lewes Mayor Ted Becker.
Another piece of history coming
Wray said the association is in the process of obtaining a large 2- to-3-ton piece of the USS Arizona, which was sunk at Pearl Harbor, Hawai, on Dec. 7, 1941, to display at the museum. “This will be the only place outside Pearl Harbor with a piece from the beginning and the end of World War II,” he said.
The showpiece of the museum is a gun barrel from the USS Missouri battleship, where the Japanese signed surrender papers on Sept. 2, 1945.