Holts Landing to celebrate anniversary facelift with Family Fun Nights

As Holts Landing State Park on the Indian River Bay gets ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary this month, it is receiving a facelift thanks to the efforts of the newly-established Friends of Holts Landing State Park. In just a little more than six months, the group has been able to clean up the park’s trail system and make other improvements to the park. Now it has a new face for its half-century celebration.

The State Parks and Friends will be celebrating the 50th anniversary with three Outdoor Family Fun Nights, on June 30, July 21 and Aug. 18, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

The celebrations will include music by the Backbay Strummers, stargazing led by State Park naturalists, a bonfire with marshmallow roasting, kids’ seining with fish identification, crabbing and yard games, including horseshoes, corn-hole, ladder golf and Frisbees.

Groups are being encouraged to come out and bring their own picnic dinners to enjoy at the pavilion’s new picnic tables.

The Friends group gets much of the credit for the park’s new spruced-up look. The group was co-founded by local residents Chuck Schonder and Bob Chin, who were concerned to learn about the deteriorating conditions at the park at a presentation by Doug Long, superintendent of the Delaware Seashore State Parks to the Inland Bays Foundation.

Soon after hearing about the conditions at Holts Landing, the pair visited the park and felt that it looked neglected. Yet they were inspired by the park’s beauty and its central location in the area.

The park has 204 acres of unspoiled upland forest, as well as 2,000 feet of waterfront on Indian River Bay. It has the only public boat/kayak access on the south shore of the Indian River Bay from Millsboro to the ocean inlet.

The park also features a 220-foot fishing/crabbing pier, a picnic grove, a picnic pavilion that seats 80 and includes a barbecue grill, and three 20-acre wilderness campsites. DNREC is hoping to secure funding from outside sources in the near future for a state-of-the-art playground.

Schonder and Chin discovered that minimal public funds had been designated for improvements to Holts Landing in 10 to 12 years. Funds to parks are based on the number of people using the facility, and best estimates showed that only about 6,000 people visited the park in 2014.

“It was kind of a Catch 22 situation. Since use of the park was low, few funds were made available for improvements. As the amenities aged and minimal funding was provided for improvements, participation kept going down. The situation needed to change,” said Schonder, who serves as the Friends president.

The pair got to work to do something about the situation, meeting with the superintendent and others and going through the extensive process to get a charter from the State Parks Division of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) to create the Friends group.

Established in October 2014, its mission is “to protect and enhance the park’s pristine natural resources and to unite with other non-profits to advocate for the park.”

Monthly trail cleanup days from January through May of this year resulted in a complete cleanup of the park’s two trails that combine for a total of 3.1 miles. The Friends have installed all new trail markers and signs. With the guidance of DNREC’s trail experts, they have reconfigured the trail design to provide for projected sea-level rise over the next 20 plus years. Four new rest/viewing benches designed and made by Boy Scout Eagle Candidate Thomas Polk have been installed along the trails.

The Friends group now has about 25 members and is growing. It has received support from state Sen. Gerald Hocker and state Rep. Ron Gray and groups including the Delaware Seashore Preservation Foundation, the Delaware Seashore State Parks, the Inland Bays Foundation and the South Coastal DE AARP chapter.

Individual annual memberships in Friends are available for $15, or $10 for students or seniors 62 or older, and family memberships for $25. Friends members are available to talk to area groups about its mission and programs. For more information about the group or to receive a membership application, contact Chuck Schonder at (703) 881-2491 or cschonder3@gmail.com.

Holts Landing is located on Route 346 near Millville. Daily admission to the park costs $4 per vehicle for in-state residents and $8 per vehicle for out-of-state residents. Annual passes are also available for $35 for in-state residents and $18 for seniors age 62 and older. Out-of-state rates are $70 or $35 for seniors.

The park offers two trails for hiking. The Seahawk Trail (1.3 miles) winds through wide paths that are covered with pine needles and a series of hidden freshwater ponds. The Seahorse Trail (1.8 miles) meanders through the wilderness campsites and a large meadow (home of numerous birds including osprey).