Visitors to state parks in the Cape Region are confused. Are beaches open or closed?
The answer is both.
According state-of-emergency restrictions, state park beaches are technically closed until May 15, or until the threat of COVID-19 has been eliminated.
There is a caveat, even though it's not stated on every sign. Division of Parks spokeswoman Nikki Lavoie said beaches are closed to all activities except exercising, dog walking and drive-on surf-fishing.
That is, if you can get to the beach. Nearly all walk-on access areas in Cape Henlopen State Park are blocked. However, there is beach access from the parking lot in Delaware Seashore State Park on the east side of the Indian River Inlet bridge.
All beach-access parking areas along Route 1 between Dewey Beach and Fenwick Island are closed as well. Only surf-fishing access areas remain open.
Rich King, founder of Delaware Surf Fishing, said he sees people walking to the beach using surf-fishing beach-access areas.
Lavoie also said, “Beach access from within Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore and Fenwick Island State Parks is prohibited to all but those with valid Delaware surf-fishing permits. Some beach crossings are open to those with valid surf-fishing permits, who may drive onto specific beaches for the purpose of surf-fishing only.”
Parking and fishing at the Indian River Inlet in Delaware Seashore State Park is permitted.
Cape Region towns have differing restrictions. The beaches in Rehoboth and Dewey are closed, as is the Rehoboth Boardwalk. However in Lewes, the beach is open only to people exercising or walking dogs. All beach parking areas are closed, including the lot at Roosevelt Inlet.
Cape park closed April 11
Lavoie said the bottom line is that park officials want to keep people from congregating in large crowds. Starting April 10, park officials have the option to close parks if they become overcrowded.
One day after enacting the capacity restriction, park staff and rangers closed Cape Henlopen State Park at 3 p.m., April 11, when a limit of 170 vehicles was reached. Lavoie said traffic was turned around, and staff and rangers later opened the park after surveying the number of vehicles.
Fishing along the surf
Under new surf-fishing restrictions, two people from the same household are permitted in designated areas in one properly tagged vehicle and both people must fish. Vehicles must park at least 60 feet apart; there is no walk-on surf fishing.
The Indian River Inlet and the Cape Henlopen State Park pier are open for fishing.
King, who spends more time on Delaware beaches than just about anyone, said very few people are surf fishing this spring. But he's worried the crowds will return.
“The concern will be when the weather turns nice, and more people venture out. The other concern is those who ignore rules and ruin it for everyone else,” he said.
King said it took a lot of phone calls and emails from surf fishermen and organizations to state officials to keep the beaches open for fishing.
On his website, delaware-surf-fishing.com, King has tabulated exactly how many vehicles could fit on the state park beaches with the 60-foot spacing restriction:
Cape Henlopen – 261; Delaware Seashore – 357; Fenwick Island – 207.