This year, Delaware State Parks are celebrating 70 years of service, providing visitors a range of opportunities to get back out into nature and the wider world around them.
Since its founding in 1951, Delaware State Parks, which initially began with three sanctioned state parks — Trap Pond in Laurel, Fort Delaware in Delaware City and Brandywine Springs in Wilmington — has grown to include 17 parks, five campgrounds, more than 150 miles of trails, historic sites, a zoo and more.
Throughout the years, Delaware State Parks has made its mission to provide visitors endless opportunities to explore and learn about the cultural and natural history of the First State — even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As more people took to the outdoors for safe recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Delaware State Parks saw a surge in visitation,” said Shauna McVey, Delaware State Parks community relations coordinator. “For example, based on trail counter data, Delaware State Parks saw a 72 percent increase in trail usage from 2019 to 2020.”
Ms. McVey said trail usage in parks such as the Delaware Seashore, Fork Branch Nature Preserve, Killens Pond and White Clay Creek were recorded as having the highest increase. Boat rentals have also undergone a 74% increase from 2020-21, and overnight camping from 2019-21 saw a 63% boost.
For many individuals across the First State, aside from simply exploring the lively outdoors, they have become engaged in bringing that same joy to others through a wide variety of different projects and other efforts.
According to the Delaware State Parks website, the Friends of Delaware State Parks are a collection of “independent nonprofit organizations of community members dedicated to assisting a particular park,” which include helping to bring to life “special events and programs, park maintenance, planning, fundraising, staffing the nature centers and advocating for the park.”
With these goals in mind, these 14 groups, made up of both active volunteers and members alike, strive to protect, preserve and oversee park resources across the First State, ensuring that the natural beauty of each state park in Kent, New Castle and Sussex counties are protected and enjoyed for generations to come.
For the Friends of Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, according to their website, “the number of visitors, the variety of park attractions and the size and diversity of the park make for a never-ending challenge” for the group, as many visitors come to the widespread Delaware Bay area and take part in both land and sea-based activities, including biking, camping, kayaking and swimming throughout the summer.
But, with a wide range of available facilities and programs, including disc golf, where participants can explore the natural flora and fauna of the surrounding beach pine forests and seaside sand dunes while enjoying a friendly game across an 18-hole course, and Hawk Watch, where visitors can observe the majestic passages of indigenous raptors, including red-tail hawks, bald and golden eagles, and peregrine falcons. Every fall, FOCHSP guides visitors into developing an appreciation and understanding of the wider natural world around them.
Membership applications are available on the FOCHSP website. They run annually from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31.
Members and their families can participate in Monthly Trail Days, involving cleaning up and maintaining trails the second Saturday of every month, ongoing fundraising campaigns, education-based initiatives and other similar projects.
Registered members can also participate in board meetings, which are held on the second Thursday of every month with the exceptions of July and December.
Within the tranquil, freshwater environment in Bear, the Friends of Lums Pond State Park are also united by a shared interest in making positive changes that allows for everyone to enjoy what the park has to offer, including horseback riding at Sunset Stables, biking at Swamp Forest Trail, and ziplining at Go Ape’s Adventure Park since their founding in 2002.
While not affiliated with the Friends of Delaware State Parks, active volunteers aim to, according to the Delaware State Parks website, “protect and preserve Lums Pond State Park through enhancement projects, public relations, and the education of users.”
This includes publicly spreading awareness of the status of the park itself, surveying surrounding plant life, maintaining multi-purpose paths and trails, and raising funds to improve the quality of on-site park facilities, including the Nature Center.
Those who have an interest in helping preserve Lums Pond State Park are encouraged to participate. There are no membership dues or fees to join, and the Friends meets every second Saturday of each month.
At the Killens Pond State Park in Felton, their Friends Group, founded in 1998 by residents and the state park staff, in addition to actively volunteering on park grounds and assisting in supporting regular maintenance projects, also host a series of state park and surrounding community combined events for all to enjoy.
These events include organizingand running an annual yard/plant/bake sale” alongside Delaware Solid Waste Authority’s annual Earth Day Celebration, the annual 5K run/walk in conjunction with the annual Lake Forest Invitational Cross Country Festival and conducting an annual Poker Run alongside the Phoenix Motorcycle Club.
To join FOKP, incoming members must pay an initial fee of $15, and will be granted a Friends-certified T-shirt or baseball cap upon participating in four related activities, events, or meetings. Annual dues of $15 or a minimum of 15 hours volunteering will be charged the following year after joining and due Dec. 31. All funds will be used to maintain and expand the park.
Fees and things
Daily entry fees range from $4 per day for Delaware vehicles and $8 per day for out-of-state vehicles at inland areas. For ocean parks, admission fees range from $5 per day for Delaware vehicles and $10 per day for vehicles registered out of state.
Delaware State Parks will also be offering virtual programming, during which visitors can access self-guided activities and videos from ongoing projects, such as First Taste with the First State Heritage Park, where historic interpreters create family-friendly dishes from centuries past; Killens Pond’s Trail Talk Thursday, where nature experts share available activities, notable wildlife and other fun facts; and self-guided video tours of areas like the Northern Delaware Greenway Trail, the Cape Henlopen Seaside Trail and White Clay Creek State Park — all from the comfort of their own homes.
Cabins, campsites, cottages and yurts will also be open and sanitized between rentals. Picnic tables and pavilions will be available through reservation only, and parties cannot exceed the 50-person limit.
If you are interested in joining, volunteering, or donating to a Friends Group at your local Delaware State Park, go here.
For more information regarding COVID-19 safety protocols and regulations while visiting Delaware State Parks, go here.