State park restaurant comes with many negatives
I am concerned about the proposed commercialization of Cape Henlopen State Park and oppose the addition of a Big Chill Beach Club. This proposal is contrary to the mission of Delaware State Parks, which reads: "Our mission is to provide Delaware's residents and visitors with safe and enjoyable recreational opportunities and open spaces, responsible stewardship of the lands and the cultural and natural resources that we have been entrusted to protect and manage, and resource-based interpretive and educational services."
State park lands were set aside as open space to preserve the natural beauty of our coast and provide natural recreation areas. I know this isn't the first restaurant in a state park, as there is one at Delaware Seashore State Park, but where do we draw the line in the sand? Draw the line here at CHSP. This is a quiet, natural area and should not be commercialized. It is very different from DSSP, which is close to Route 1 and the Indian River Inlet bridge, both of which already give off light and noise. The environments are not the same and cannot be managed the same.
The beach at CHSP is a pristine natural area and needs to be preserved. Noise pollution disturbs wildlife. Light pollution brightens the night skies and interferes with migratory birds. Alcohol will be served. Patrons leaving in the evening hours pose a risk to wildlife that moves at dusk. We don't need the light, noise or alcohol in the park that the restaurant will bring.
The potential impact on local businesses is another issue. The beach club at the DSSP is isolated, not close to two towns with taxpaying restaurants. Residents there may be happy to have a restaurant, but we have many in Lewes and Rehoboth. How will other restaurants compete with that ocean view? Is it fair to lease public lands to one business when it could hurt the interests of other taxpaying businesses?
The park is overcrowded and routinely closes at peak times. Locals know it's too crowded to go to CHSP on summer weekends. No additional attractions are needed, so the only reason for this proposal is to generate revenue to fund park improvements. Instead, raise the entry fees and surf-fishing tag fees. People line up at the park and there is a frenzy for surf tags, so increased fees shouldn’t deter users. Discounted passes could be offered to low-income Delaware residents qualifying for state services and to seniors qualifying for Senior School Property Tax Relief. A Delaware State Parks fee or contribution could be added to settlement costs for out-of-state homebuyers moving to Delaware. There are ways to increase revenue without commercializing our parks.
Delaware taxpayers are stakeholders and deserve a voice. I urge our legislators and officials to scale back the CHSP plans and to schedule an additional informational meeting about the planned park improvements, with online access. Few residents were aware of the proposal when the meeting in June was held, so another public meeting should be scheduled.