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DNREC calls off plan to build restaurant at Cape Henlopen State Park

Protesters stand outside a town hall led by DNREC at Cape Henlopen high school on Monday.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
Protesters gathered outside of a presentation by DNREC at Cape Henlopen High School on Monday night.

DNREC is pulling the plug on a plan to team up with a hospitality company on a new restaurant at Cape Henlopen State Park.

At a presentation Monday, Division of Parks leadership said the proposed contract with LaVida Hospitality was a chance to give the company responsibility for the park’s concessions operation.

According to the Division’s head of planning, preservation and development, Delaware’s Division of Parks is largely self-funding: 65 percent of its budget comes from revenue streams like annual passes and surf tags. Contracting some services, like concessions, allows it to increase revenues and reduce costs – something it calls important to keeping up with repairs and upgrades to meet growing demand.

Delaware State Parks saw a record 8 million visitors this year. Division Director Ray Bivens says they expect those numbers to continue climbing.

“We have less staff than we did ten years ago when we had six million visitors," he said. "We need to take care of these special places, and we also need to plan that more people are coming. We can’t make any more ocean.”

But facing opposition condemning the deal as selling public land in a vulnerable coastal ecosystem to private interests, DNREC announced Monday it could not complete contract negotiations and the project’s environmental review.

But Bivens notes the state still needs to continue development at the park, including bringing public restrooms into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

During the meeting, LaVida managing partner Josh Grapski urged the audience to turn its energy towards supporting the long-term solvency of Delaware’s parks.

“We hope all those who came out tonight will consider becoming active advocates as well – not just voices of opposition when solutions are sought," he said.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.