DNREC Wins $3.2 Million Economic Development Grant | State
Trap Pond State Park, a 3,650-acre property near Laurel filled with bald cypress trees, is getting a major overhaul, including replacing primitive cabins with 10 cabins offering indoor plumbing and adding a kiddy pool for children. Other campgrounds in the state, including Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore, Killens Pond and Lums Pond State Parks, will also see major upgrades, including the addition of six new cabins at Delaware Seashore State Park.
The facilities will receive $3.2 million in new federal funding from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) and $2.5 million in state funding for parks. .
In a well-attended July 1 announcement of planned park system upgrades at Cape Henlopen State Park, held at the park’s observation tower, U.S. Senator Tom Carper and DNREC Secretary Shawn Mr. Garvin, made the announcement jointly with Linda Cruz Carnall of the Federal EDA.
“We want Trap Pond to grow and become the largest park with amenities in our system,” said Ray Bivens, director of state parks and recreation, in a preview of an upcoming announcement from this department this week. Bivens also revealed plans for installing a splash pool and upgrading five primitive mini cabins with no bathrooms to 10 upgraded cabins with toilets and plumbing, which he says will help “increase the value property of houses and owners in Trap Pond.
Delaware is a gold-winning park system and is considered the best public recreation, camping, hiking, and trail system in the United States, according to federal and state natural resource officials.
Carper is the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Garvin staff did the grant writing work to secure funding from the Commerce Department. The EDA grant to DNREC from Cruz Carnall comes from funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Part of the story highlighted in this week’s announcement is the massive growth in outdoor recreation and park attendance as residents and tourists adapt to pandemic restrictions by heading outdoors to play and get some fresh air.
“Camping nights have gone from 67,000 nights to 150,000 – so we’ve grown 120%” in that decade, Garvin said. “Most of our campers are from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and we have guests staying in Delaware from every state in the union,” he said (except, oddly, no North Dakota residents camped in the state).
“This increased use means more maintenance, more RV hookups, the need for better camping stores,” Garvin said. “This EDA grant is a huge step in the right direction.”
DNREC officials noted that six new cabins are in plans for the Delaware Seashore State Park South Campground in Indian River Inlet. State parks broke all attendance records in 2021 and are poised to break records again in 2022.
As for the $2.5 million spent by state lawmakers on improving Trap Pond, Garvin noted that the money will be used to “preserve an ecosystem of bald cypress trees in Delaware.” He said the wading pool will be built in what is now a parking lot near the nature center of Trap Pond State Park.
State Sen. Ernie Lopez (D-6th) was scheduled to retire at the end of the 2022 legislative session, after 10 years of service in the Senate. He was the first Hispanic lawmaker elected to the Delaware legislature, in 2012. On the last day of the legislative session, June 30, Lopez helped provide the additional $2.5 million in funding at 1:30 a.m. (1st July).
“Ernie works on very little sleep,” joked Garvin. “On the last day of the session, the senate was there until 1:36 a.m. The senator is retiring, so it was his last legislative session. We would like to thank him for his service to the state and in particular to the parks system.
“Shawn was there until 10:30 p.m. and then saw the remote vote at 1 a.m., to get this park funding approved for our state budget,” Lopez said, noting that Garvin was also sleep deprived.
State funding is specifically for campgrounds, which are an economic driver of tourism, he said.
Carper said: “I love that we’re making this announcement on Friday ahead of the 4th of July weekend. It is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“Delaware was the first state to ratify our Constitution, and now, today, we enjoy our lives and our freedoms in our state parks,” he added.
Carper mentioned that two of his sons are Eagle Scouts, and he recalled many nights camping at Cape Henlopen and other state parks.
“We have great memories,” the senator said, “and we’ve camped here in Fort Miles before.”
“That $3.2 million EDA money under the U.S. bailout was a competitive grant.”
Cruz Carnall noted that the EDA has awarded a total of $295 million nationwide and Delaware would receive $3.2 million.
“Our role is to make investments to create jobs for American workers and to increase our national resilience to economic shocks,” said Cruz Carnall. “We are open to communities and their needs.
“The North East region has suffered from COVID-19 and tourism has been particularly affected,” the EDA director said. On the bright side, “It was also a driving force for outdoor camping and hiking and helped revive tourism.”
She called Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore, Lum’s and Trap Pond parks destination locations for campers nationwide. Cruz Carnall has worked for the Commerce Department for 35 years. She said funding from the American Rescue Plan Act has helped Delaware.
Public opinion solicited on Trap Pond capital projects
Bivens, the director of state parks, previewed the Trap Pond improvements.
“We will launch our master plan and seek public input on capital improvements at our July 6 information night,” Bivens said late last week. “Some of the mini cabins are going to be converted or rebuilt to full service, much like the ones at Killen’s Pond.”
“It’s getting a lot harder to find a cabin,” Bivens said of the 47 cabins, cabins and yurts currently available at state parks. “The cabins in Indian River Inlet near the Delaware Seashore are amazing, and the cabins in Trap Pond will be more upscale. Lum’s Pond has also injected money into the state budget for cabins through recent General Assembly funding.
“We could double the number of our current 47 cabins and cabins,” Bivens said, and they would still have guests booking them.