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More Major Moves Underway to Preserve Land in Lewes

A couple of weeks ago I posted some great news for everyone who loves Delaware’s beautiful natural landscapes and is concerned about so much farmland being turned into housing developments. . If you live or frequently visit Lewes there’s even more good news thanks to two major initiatives that will preserve two locally beloved sites forever if they succeed.

Protecting Cape Henlopen State Park from Unwanted Commercial Development

The most prominent effort arose out of controversy, which isn’t necessarily bad if you’re a Joni Mitchell fan who won’t mind having the classic lyrics about the paving of paradise stuck in your head for a bit (sorry). Last fall the public became aware of a plan by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DENREC) to allow a popular local company to build and operate a very large restaurant right on the beach in Cape Henlopen State Park.

Thousands of people were outraged because the park is a unique and vast space for everyone who loves pine forests and nature trails and the sound of breaking waves in a natural, non-commercial setting. Even more troubling was the plan to put it alongside the beloved Hawk Watch preserve, which is a haven for bird watchers who follow migration patterns.

DENREC’s rationale is understandable because although Cape Henlopen is the most popular park in the state, the various fees paid by the public don’t come close to meeting the costs of maintaining it. Thanks to a tremendous public education campaign mounted by local residents, the outcry was especially visible when about 1,000 people filled the Cape Henlopen High School auditorium for a public meeting, with the vast majority speaking against the project. The restauranteur ultimately withdrew its proposal and DENREC officials promised to look for better ways to bring in the revenue to protect the park.

Today the Preserve Our Park group is behind legislation that would ensure the statute that created the park as an area for public recreation with very minimal commercial activity is solidified into an enduring regulation (Senate Bill 6). If passed it will prevent major commercial enterprises like a restaurant, theme park, unwanted housing or others from being allowed, and ensure that this vast natural preserve remains special and protected for the ages. Based on tremendous support that’s already well-established, I believe it’s going to succeed.

Preserving a Small but Significant Local Forest – And a Big Plot of Beautiful Land

Another effort that depends on the raising of $18.3 million will preserve and improve a total of 120 acres in Lewes. It’s spearheaded by the Greater Lewes Foundation and the Sussex County Land Trust. Known as the Lewes Open Space Alliance, it aims to protect an 89-acre tract between Savannah Road and New Road as well as a 30-acre tract straddling historic downtown Lewes and the very popular Pilottown Village neighborhood.

One very significant aspect of this effort is the willingness of the property owners to offer the land at a large discount to the non-profit organizations working to protect it. Both tracts are surrounded by very desirable neighborhoods and prime spots for development as more people come to love Lewes. If the effort succeeds, both properties will welcome the public for hiking and other passive recreation, providing yet another valuable benefit for current homeowners and those who move to the area along with visitors year round. 

Since I’m one of the folks who loves Lewes I’ll continue looking out for more efforts to protect and improve our natural areas in Sussex County while also spotlighting other efforts all around our state.

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