Preserve Our Park continues efforts

January 24, 2023

News of plans to construct a bar/restaurant on the dune north of the David McBride Bathhouse at the public beach at Cape Henlopen State Park mobilized a group of local residents in October to challenge that proposal. Preserve Our Park, a grassroots coalition, organized a march, launched a website, wrote letters, and contacted local, state and national officials to raise public awareness about the plan and to mobilize against it.  

A standing-room-only crowd of nearly a thousand people attended a public meeting at Cape Henlopen High School Dec. 5 to hear representatives from Delaware State Parks present their plans. The overwhelming sentiment expressed by attendees that night was love for the park and determination to protect it. It was clear this community is for the park, but challenges commercial development in the park. The plan to put a restaurant on the dune seemed to have hit a public nerve. As numerous speakers that night made clear, in the face of explosive development in Sussex County, the wild beauty of Cape Henlopen feels like a line that should not be crossed.  

Before the Dec. 5 public forum was over, the director of DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation announced they had paused the bar/restaurant plan. La Vida Hospitality Group, the company selected to build and operate the bar/restaurant, was more definitive: It announced that it had withdrawn its proposal. The difference is significant: State parks left the door open to revisit the proposal in the future. 

At its first meeting of 2023, POP’s steering committee considered two questions.

“Is it over?” and “What’s next?” As the Division of Parks and Recreation’s more cautious announcement makes clear, it’s over in the short term, but the future remains uncertain.                              

In the face of that uncertainty, the Preserve Our Park coalition will continue its mission to ensure the Warner Grant Trust Lands that encompass the state park are administered for the public benefit as areas of public recreation, conservation and/or nature education, and are not used for private benefit to the detriment of such public benefit. We will do this through engagement with park officials, the state Legislature and the community.

More specifically, what’s next? POP welcomes the invitation from Ray Bivens, director of parks and recreation, issued to the concerned citizens at Cape Henlopen High School during the public forum to join him in solving the park’s financial problems. POP agrees with Director Bivens that the financial shortfall must be addressed, but it should be addressed in a way that preserves the natural beauty and heritage of the park. The community seems to agree with us. Scores of new members joined the Friends of Cape Henlopen State Park in the week after the public meeting seeking to be part of that solution.

POP is committed to working on three fronts:

  • Develop solutions to the park’s financial problems, both the operational budget and the capital budget. Toward this end, POP will continue the constructive dialogue with park officials started Dec. 5
  • Reaffirm the state’s commitment to the Warner Grant, made by William Penn in 1682, by working with local officials and members of the General Assembly. The Warner Grant was amended in 1979 to promote conservation, provide for outdoor public recreation and advance nature education on the lands encompassed in Cape Henlopen State Park.
  • Monitor construction, proposed commercial development and future planning to see that all projects are consistent with the requirements of the Warner Grant and federal obligations. 

Going forward, POP sees an opportunity to harness the energy of those who have come out in support of the park to ensure that the state park remains the jewel of Delaware’s state park system. 

Working together, we can preserve our park. In Helen Keller’s words: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Cape Henlopen enchants us today and needs to be preserved so it can enchant future generations:

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar.”

George Gordon Byron from “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.”

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