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With New Legislation, Cape Henlopen Will Continue to be a Natural Wonder

With New Legislation, Cape Henlopen Will Continue to be a Natural Wonder

I’ve written often about all of the wonderful reasons to spend time at Cape Henlopen State Park (, and virtually every post has emphasized its vast acreage filled with natural wonders. The forests filled with aromatic pines. The marshlands that can be traversed by raised biking and hiking trails. Gordon’s Pond, which brims with wildlife. And miles of a shoreline stretching from Delaware Bay to the Atlantic Ocean, with multiple places to swim, fish, and simply enjoy the views.

An unfortunate impact of all of this is that the park is loved a bit too much, with capacity crowds that often lead it to close for a few hours at midday on Summer days. The folks at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DENREC) have faced a lot of challenges because of that. For lots of reasons they’re also concerned with the financial burden they face in keeping Delaware’s largest and most popular park in great condition despite the relatively low fees people play to enjoy it.

Which brings me to an update on my May 30th post about a major effort to protect the park’s natural habitat and strike the right balance for commercial enterprises, including the availability of food and equipment for recreational activities. The legislation developed by a bipartisan group of elected leaders to do exactly that has passed both the Delaware House and Senate and will soon be signed by Governor John Carney. 

Why it Matters

There’s a big budget deficit at Cape Henlopen because the costs of maintaining it aren’t met by entrance fees, donations or other measures. That’s why last year DNREC invited proposals from businesspeople to build a full-scale beachfront restaurant that would boost park revenues.

The outcry from the public was tremendous, largely because of well-justified concerns that the restaurant would damage the natural habitat due to trash, increased traffic, light pollution, and because of its proposed location adjacent to the Hawk Watch, which enables park visitors to view all kinds of birds in a natural habitat that would have been disturbed by the light and noise and crowds from the restaurant.

That outcry wasn’t just about protesting. It was driven by a well-planned and executed campaign to bring these concerns to DNREC and lawmakers and included a sophisticated Web site, a lot of interaction with the press, and a public meeting that drew 1,000 people to Cape Henlopen High School, most of whom were against the park.

In December the company that had won the bid to build the restaurant back out of the deal, and soon after the legislation was introduced.

It matters today because once the legislation has passed it will ensure the park’s protection in accordance with a vision dating back to 300 years, when the Delaware courts enacted the Warner Grant upon condition that the land would always serve the public interest. In 1979, following a series of threats, the General Assembly set further boundaries for any private uses that would be allowed.

Now, through the legislation known as SB6, DNREC will be required to preserve “the scenic, historic, scientific, prehistoric, and wildlife values” of the Warner Grant Trust Lands. In other words, DNREC is now required to ensure that any for-profit enterprise or public-private partnership isn’t detrimental to these public benefits – or to the natural wonders that make this one of Delaware’s favorite places. 

This is truly great news for everyone who enjoys visiting the park, and for many of our clients and friends who have invested in homes located within an easy bike ride or drive to it. Whether you’re considering neighborhoods on the east side or west side of Lewes or anywhere else that puts a premium on access to the beach, it’s another great reason to make your move very soon.