Restaurant will destroy jewel of a park

November 29, 2022

As a resident of Sussex County, I am appalled at the proposal to build a large restaurant in Cape Henlopen State Park on the dunes fronting the ocean. The plan to lease the project to La Vida Hospitality seems to have taken shape largely behind closed doors, leading to DNREC agreeing to a 6,000-square-foot restaurant on a protected dune adjacent to the existing bathhouse. This is unacceptable.

The project has been compared to the Big Chill restaurant at Indian River Inlet. While the concept may be similar, the restaurant at the inlet is easily accessed from the highway. Access in Cape Henlopen would require driving through the park on multi-use roads. I do not believe the safety of our park visitors will be enhanced by restaurant patrons consuming alcohol and driving through the park. In the summer, the park is crowded with visitors, many of whom may be riding bikes. Inexperienced cyclists and inebriated drivers add up to a deadly outcome. 

The impact on the environment of a restaurant would be considerable.

  • When the Big Chill is open, trash accumulates on nearby dunes. What will the beach and dunes look like at Cape Henlopen with a year-round restaurant?
  • Plastic trash on the beach and in the ocean threatens wildlife and ocean species
  • Increased traffic, including delivery trucks, will cause increased noise and pollution on park roads and impact the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and wildlife
  • The restaurant is intended to be open year-round until 10 p.m. with live music. This will affect wildlife, migrating birds and nocturnal species. A lit restaurant will adversely impact dark skies, creating light pollution
  • This area is part of the Atlantic flyway and is crucial for migratory bird species. The proposed site is adjacent to the Hawk Watch. Trees and native plants will be destroyed to construct the restaurant, disrupting migratory species and bird nesting.

Contracting with a for-profit restaurant group to place a restaurant on our parkland means that public land will be used for private benefit. The mission statement of the Delaware State Parks is stated on the website: 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.”

How is building a for-profit restaurant on protected dunes in the middle of a state park consistent with responsible stewardship and protection of cultural and natural resources? 

It is my understanding the proposed restaurant violates the terms of the Warner Land Trust Grant, which specified that protected areas would be managed by DNREC for the benefit of the people of Lewes, Sussex County and Delaware. This proposal is detrimental to our park and the people who enjoy its natural beauty. It is not clear who, besides La Vida Hospitality, stands to profit. It is certain that building this restaurant will contribute to the commercialization and destruction of this jewel of a park.

Nancy Forsyth
  • A letter to the editor expresses a reader's opinion and, as such, is not reflective of the editorial opinions of this newspaper.

    To submit a letter to the editor for publishing, send an email to Letters must be signed and include a telephone number and address for verification. Please keep letters to 500 words or fewer. We reserve the right to edit for content and length. Letters should be responsive to issues addressed in the Cape Gazette rather than content from other publications or media. Only one letter per author will be published every 30 days. Letters restating information and opinions already offered by the same author will not be used. Letters must focus on issues of general, local concern, not personalities or specific businesses.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter