Delaware State Parks wins national award
While Delaware may be small, its state parks are prized by both residents and tourists. Now, Delaware State Parks has received a national medal to recognize what it offers visitors.
The National Recreation and Park Association awarded Delaware State Parks its gold medal.
It’s the first time the The First State applied for the two-year award, and it took the top prize by beating out previous winners like Virginia and Florida.
Delaware is the tenth state to earn the honor, but the smallest parks system ever to win it. Delaware State Parks director Ray Bivens says it’s not just because of the downstate beaches that draw many out-of-town visitors.
“Being Delaware and being small, we have that advantage where in most states a state park is something where you get in your car and you drive an hour to get to. There’s nowhere in this state that’s more than 30 minutes from a state park," said Bivens.
DNREC Secretary David Small says one thing that sets Delaware’s state parks apart from other park systems is an effort to raise awareness of conservation projects, such as contamination cleanup and management of invasive species.
“We talk a lot about the recreation, that’s why parks are here first and foremost," said Small. "But they are also special from a biological standpoint and we work really hard to maintain that.”
The Southern Delaware Tourism office notes that the state parks are a huge draw for out-of-state residents, especially from cities. 71 percent of Delaware’s tourists come from outside Delaware, compared to Pennsylvania’s 32 percent.
"Our visitors are coming from these heavily populated metropolitan areas, like New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. They come to Sussex County and see this scenery and it's almost brings that nearby faraway feeling and the state parks harness that," said Scott Thomas, executive director of Southern Tourism Delaware.
One recent addition to the Delaware State Parks was the Assawoman Canal Trail that opened in South Bethany last month, part of Gov. Markell’s initiative to expand bike paths in the state.
Among current efforts to improve parks, the state is working on renovations at Lums Pond and a $2 million water park project at Killens Pond.