The grassroots effort to restore a local waterfront park is getting attention, as Charles “Chuck” Schonder recently received a state volunteer award for founding Friends of Holts Landing State Park.
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) annually honors its vast network of unpaid helpers by naming Volunteers of the Year.
At the 2015 Delaware State Fair, Gov. Jack Markell and DNREC Secretary David Small presented awards in 10 categories, including Schonder’s winning category of Administration & Coordination.
“He is … a staunch promoter of volunteering, trail-day creator, scout recruiter and steering-committee member,” according to DNREC.
Other awards ranged from business partners to educators and friends groups (Trap Pond volunteers won the latter).
“We really depend on those folks to support us and work with us on our programs and project,” said DNREC’s Joanna Wilson, which, she said, is why the awards “recognize those who really go above and beyond.”
Schonder was nominated by Lee Temby, volunteer coordinator for Delaware Seashore State Park.
“Frankly, I was shocked,” Schonder said of the honor, noting that other friends groups are “a lot more formed and active than Holts, so that really surprised me when we had won an award.
“It’s humbling,” Schonder said. “All I could think of when they were handing me the award were the people who worked on this. One person walks up there,” representing so many, he said.
He and Friends cofounder Bob Chin first became concerned about the lack of public boating access on the south side of the Indian River Bay.
“We were concerned that the average person, who couldn’t belong to a club or have it built into their residence somehow, would be priced out, and that they wouldn’t have access,” Schonder said. “That was our first concern that got us to Holts. Then, when we got out there, we were surprised by all the natural resources that were unattended.”
First, they asked how to make a change. Then they had a Friends charter signed by October of 2014.
Though 50 years old this year, Holts Landing is off the beaten path, near Millville, and doesn’t get the visitors (and, therefore, the funding) of bigger parks, such as Cape Henlopen State Park. But the Friends are bringing the labor, love and voice that Holts needs to last another 50 years and more.
Currently, they’re cleaning up the trails, moving some to higher ground, improving signage and providing other labor and legwork.
They also hope to “open up” the waterfront.
“It’s all overgrown on the shoreline. There’s not a good view of the bay — one of the key features of the park — because it’s all overgrown,” said Schonder. “We have a gorgeous beach on the western end … which has just receded quite a bit.”
Certainly, this is a delicate area, but with scientific guidance, “we hope to open up some of that scrub and get a view of the bay,” he said.
After organizing Family Fun Nights (the last of which is Aug. 18 at 6:30 p.m.) this summer, the Friends are planning more activities for next summer.
“Local superintendent Doug Long has been wonderfully supportive,” said Schonder, “taking us through all the ropes … and the different hoops to jump through.”
He also thanked Lãf Erickson (the trail events coordinator) and the late Ron Kernahan, “a wonderful guide and wonderful outdoorsman” who passed away in June after bringing the Cape Henlopen friends group’s expertise to Holts Landing.
Trail maintenance will be the second Saturday of each month at 9 a.m., resuming in October. To volunteer, contact Schonder at (703) 881-2491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We have all levels of need … for the trail days. It’s a very fun activity. You can do it at whatever physical level you choose to do it at,” Schonder said.
Volunteers can be students or senior citizens or anywhere in between. They’ll brew coffee, carry equipment, swing a hammer or saw through trees.
DNREC sponsors a variety of volunteer opportunities year-round. Volunteers of all ages can adopt wetlands, count horseshoe crabs, remove invasive plants, plant beach grass, check water quality, clean up beaches, monitor wildlife species, teach boating safety classes, maintain park trails, give history tours and more. Learn more online at www.destateparks.com/friends or www.dnrec.delaware.gov/volunteer.