Holts Landing State Park may have already seen what seemed like its heyday, but to the state parks system and reinvigorated volunteers, now is the perfect time for a revival. The hidden park near Millville is celebrating its 50th anniversary with Outdoor Family Fun Night on Tuesday, June 30, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Outdoor games will be provided, such as cornhole, horseshoes and ladder golf (in which players attempt to loop a string with two golf balls around a ladder-shaped PVC pipe goal).
Park naturalists will do hands-on activities before the sun sets, including seining for critters in the bay. After dark, they’ll point out stellar constellations in the night sky.
Meanwhile, families can relax and roast marshmallows by a bonfire. Those attending should pack their own picnic dinners, bug spray and blankets for stargazing.
The Back Bay Strummers will bring their strings to perform live music.
Admission fees will be in place for those entering the state park: per car, $4 in-state and $8 out-of-state.
“You can’t even park downtown almost for that,” quipped Chuck Schonder, president of Friends of Holts Landing State Park.
Family Fun Nights will be offered again on July 21 and Aug. 18, sponsored by Delaware Division of Parks & Recreation.
“It’s a family park. It’s a local park, and I think this Family Fun Night is the exact approach that we want the park to be known as,” Schonder said.
Holts Landing is a hidden gem — hidden within the state park system, and even within itself.
Nestled near Millville, the tiny park is so forested that most visitors don’t realize it extends far beyond the open, obvious grounds on Indian River Bay.
The park boasts a fishing pier, boat ramp, playground, picnic pavilion, more than 2 miles of trails and “gorgeous ponds out there around the trails,” Schonder added. “It’s really just unique. A lot of people go through that park and don’t realize we have these beautiful trails though the park.”
In 1965, the original property was only 30-odd acres, but has grown to 204, said Schonder.
“In the ’60s, many thought Holts was ‘too small (at 30-some acres) to be a state park,’” especially since most state parks were 500 acres, and Sussex County had so much open space. “Now we recognize how significant Holts is due to [its being] one of the last public areas available directly on the back inland bays,” wrote Doug Long, park superintendent for the Delaware Seashore State Parks region.
“At one time, apparently, it was very popular and they had a much larger pavilion out there,” Schonder said. “We’re trying to find a balance between preserving that gorgeous place out there and also getting enough people out there that they can start investing in some infrastructure.”
Because about 65 percent of the state parks’ operating expenses come from admissions, camping and fishing fees, a park’s popularity really influences its amenities.
That’s why a new volunteer group is providing the manpower to help perk things up at Holts Landing.
“We’ve really had a nice group of people working on these trails — a real energetic, happy, engaged group of people. That’s what we were looking for,” Schonder said.
Chartered in October, the Friends of Holts Landing State Park began meeting in January, on some freezing winter mornings.
“Some of them were a little brisk,” Schonder said with a laugh. “We have replaced or added an entire new set of trail markers. They’re all Teflon-coated, and they’re going to be there forever, hopefully.”
They installed signs and have reconfigured the trails, with the help of state mappers who anticipate a new cove forming there within the next few decades.
Trail maintenance will be done by the group on the second Saturday of each month at 9 a.m., resuming in October. To volunteer, contact Chuck Schonder at (703) 881-2491 or email@example.com. Learn more at www.destateparks.com/volunteer.
Information on the 50th anniversary event is online at www.destateparks.com/park/delaware-seashore/programs.