Preserve Our Park supports state parks budget

February 24, 2023

On behalf of Preserve our Park Coalition’s steering committee, I commented on DNREC’s budget request at the Joint Finance Committee meeting Feb. 21.

Preserve Our Park Coalition supports DNREC’s budget request for state parks, and, in the context of our understanding of the unmet financial needs at Cape Henlopen State Park, encourages greater support from the state. DNREC’s Feb. 2 published report stated the most-visited state park in 2022 was Cape Henlopen with 1.9 million visitors, accounting for almost one in four of all park visits. Cape Henlopen State Park is special and the focus of POP. Thank you, DNREC, Parks and Recreation, Friends of Cape Henlopen State Park and others for creating memorable experiences for state, U.S., and international visitors who enjoy Cape Henlopen State Park.  

Balancing preservation with public use can be a challenge. As Cape Henlopen State Park has become more popular and as the tourism industry has grown in southern Delaware, pressures have grown to make the park a destination, posing threats to preserving the park’s natural character and its varied habitats. One factor contributing to that pressure is the rule Director Bivens shared with us during the Dec. 5 public meeting: Currently, Delaware parks must generate 65% of their own budget. This policy may have been critical during tough budget times, but fortunately those times have passed. This previous policy makes DNREC susceptible to revenue-generating ideas that pose threats to the park’s other purposes. POP asks the General Assembly to increase the park system’s budget by 40% so Parks and Rec is responsible for no more than 25% of its own funding.

Unlike other Delaware parks, Cape Henlopen is governed by a unique state law that has maintained the park’s distinctively natural character for almost 350 years. In 1979, Delaware legislators reaffirmed the historic Warner Grant Trust Lands legislation (Senate Bill 315) that states the land in Cape Henlopen State Park must be administered for public, not private, benefit in the areas of recreation (athletic and/or outdoor recreational activities), conservation (protection of the dunes, birds, animals, native plants) and nature education (nature center, nature museum, public programming such as ranger talks, nature conferences).

These three purposes must blend harmoniously so that not one of them impinges on the others to such an extent that it damages their achievement. POP supports DNREC’s budget requests for Cape Henlopen State Park that maintain and create recreation, conservation and nature education activities consistent with the Warner Grant Trust Lands legislation. 

When news of the plan to build a bar/restaurant on the dune north of the McBride Bathhouse became public, nearly 1,000 people attended a Dec. 5 public meeting to oppose the plan. What we heard was bewilderment and anger, but underlying almost all the comments were expressions of love and support for the Cape Henlopen State Park and for protecting it. POP aims to work with all those who share our goals and concerns for Cape Henlopen State Park.

Elaine Simmerman
Preserve Our Park Coalition
Co-founder and vice president
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