DNREC is drying state park oasis

November 18, 2022

There have been many letters written to the Gazette in recent weeks lamenting the plans of a private firm establishing a new restaurant in Cape Henlopen State Park with the exclusive right to operate it for at least the next 24 years. Most of the writers pretty much provide the same arguments against the plans, some apparently well-founded but others exaggerated and somewhat misinformed based on what the reported facts are surrounding the actual project. Nevertheless, I agree with the objectors’ basic premises.

What I find most disheartening, however, is three-part: first, DNREC's and the hospitality group's low-key, low-profile approach to disclosing this long-term contract has left the public extremely late in the game to mount reasonable objections and have meaningful power to change or halt plans. Considering that the plans affect a public park, this seems unacceptable. 

Second is DNREC's claim that one of the two most frequent complaints is that there are not enough food options in the park, and hence their reason for this new project. As someone who was responsible for a large corporation's survey and client satisfaction effort, I know that drawing conclusions from a specific subset of people on the basis of a complaint count can be very misleading as to what the larger population really wants. Has the state hired a high-quality research firm utilizing comprehensive, valid statistical techniques to draw their conclusions? Probably not.

Third, in my view, is DNREC having possibly lost their mission compass. The park exists not to generate money from licensing fees provided by hospitality groups and other commercial entities, but to allow the public to enjoy the natural environment and achieve a respite from the hustle and bustle of modern life and the ever-encroaching expanse of sprawling construction and traffic. Cape Henlopen State Park is one of the last oases in the Cape Region that is able to provide this, and DNREC's business-friendly approach is drop-by-drop letting this oasis dry up. First, by blacktopping and concreting the Fort Miles area; second, by blacktopping the campground; third, by clearing natural lands to create access to a newly constructed wedding venue area for the benefit of only six couples per year; fourth, by opening the door to entertainment filming that could grow exponentially in the future; and now, this. 

My fear is that 50 years from now, with this continued march toward development, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have no notion of what a wonderful natural area this park truly was. Nor will the remaining wildlife ... if they survive. 

As an alternative, why not further renovate the existing McBride Bathhouse facility, but maintain the existing footprint so that no additional trees have to be clear-cut, no additional ground surfaces be made impervious, and no additional disturbance created for the wildlife and precious dunes? Then they could plant additional vegetation and trees to replace the ones already taken from previous measures. This seems like a more palatable solution. 

Anthony W. Baldino


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