LAUREL — The potential for a splash park looms at Trap Pond State Park, a hot spot that’s home to the northernmost naturally occurring stand of baldcypress trees.
One of the goals of Trap Pond’s master plan is to grow the park, located several miles east of Laurel, into the largest state park over the next decade, said Shauna McVey, Delaware State Parks’ spokeswoman.
“Cape Henlopen is currently the largest, at more than 5,000 acres,” she said. “The potential exists to expand dramatically at Trap, unlike at other parks, such as where (they are) incapsulated by development, like at Lums Pond.”
Since 1993, more than $7 million in Delaware Open Space Program investments have permanently protected over 2,700 acres at Trap Pond and the nearby James Branch Nature Preserve.
Ms. McVey added that the division hopes “landowners in the area read about this goal and reach out to us to explore protecting their land through the Open Space Program, via an easement or fee simple purchase.”
A splash park is among the projects backed by state and federal funding.
In the 2023 bond bill, $2.5 million was allocated, spearheaded by Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel. He noted that the splash park discussion started about a decade ago, when then-state Sen. Robert Venables was chairman of the Bond Bill Committee.
“Trap Pond has been a project that has kind of been in the process and talked about for 10 or 12 years,” said Rep. Dukes. “We got a little bit of funding a couple years back to do an engineering drawing, not a design. We were able to do that (with) Century Engineering for the splash park. And we were able to get the funding this year, finally, from the state.”
He said the hope is that the splash pad will perpetuate the legacies of Sen. Venables, who passed away in December 2021, and Ron Breeding, who died the following month. Mr. Breeding had a deep passion for recreation and served on the state’s parks commission for 20 years.
“He really wanted to see this,” Rep. Dukes said. “(And) Bob Venables was an integral part of the idea of wanting to see it developed.”
On the federal end, on July 1, Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., and state officials announced a $3.2 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant through American Rescue Plan Act funding for Delaware State Parks. It will support campground improvements at Trap Pond, Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore, Killens Pond and Lums Pond.
In addition to the splash park, additions for Trap Pond include six docks and kayak/canoe launches, a boat-rental facility with family restrooms, service windows, storage for boats and safety equipment, 10 full-service cabins and a primitive camping area.
Rep. Dukes said the plan is to ask Sussex County to contribute funding for the splash park, as well. “Hopefully, the whole thing will be funded, and the goal is to be able to start sometime next year,” he said.
He also noted that Trap Pond’s proposition is a splash park, not a water park. There will be no standing water.
“It is what they refer to as a looped system,” he said. “The water will be run through a pump and filter to purify the water, and it will be reused. So nowhere will there be any water discharged. There was some concern from people who thought they were going to be discharging dirty water into Trap Pond, making dirty water even dirtier. That is not the case. This is a self-contained unit that will purify it.”
The splash park would provide an alternative to swimming in the pond, whose water quality is not safe due to blue-green algae that is harmful to humans and pets, said Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control spokesman Michael Globetti.
As for fishing, there have been no reported cases of people becoming ill from eating fish caught there; however, most anglers catch and release at Trap Pond, environmental officials said.
“It’s also notable that Trap Pond was recognized by Bassmaster magazine as one (of) the 100 best bass lakes in the country (No. 50),” said Mr. Globetti.
The 4.5 acres proposed for the splash park, currently in conceptual design, is a very small portion of the roughly 4,000-acre Trap Pond State Park, Ms. McVey said.
“Placing the splash park on a fragmented section of lower-quality forest adjacent to the park Nature Center, boat rental, playgrounds and the largest parking lot in the park makes sense from both a land-protection and active-recreation framework,” she said.
“Best practices for sustainability in parks and recreation nationwide include clustering infrastructure for active-recreation facilities to core areas, which allows agencies to protect corridors of high-quality habitat in large forest blocks. This is the same plan we are using for Trap Pond.”
Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans, conducted every five years, determine recreational needs at both the statewide and local levels by surveying residents, Ms. McVey said. Water-based activities were identified as a high priority for Region 5, which covers most of western Sussex County.
“Additionally, visitors frequently request for an area of the park where youth and others can cool off in the summer, as Trap Pond itself is not swimmable,” she said.
“This splash park proposed now is much different than the water park planned over a decade ago. It is much smaller in scale and includes no standing water in the design. Depending on the availability of funds, phase one could start with a smaller footprint, with the addition of other elements as funding becomes available.”
Further, the Division of Parks and Recreation’s goal is to plant 75,000 trees through 2026 — as part of its Project 75 initiative — including at Trap Pond.