While touring the renovated Delaware Seashore State Park, Ray Bivens marveled at the two-part campground.
“For a park that’s divided by a highway, a bridge and an inlet, it’s now very connected,” said Bivens, director of the Delaware Division of Parks & Recreation.
“We’re all gonna imagine what it’s like here in June and July, when it’s 80 degrees out,” he told stakeholders who gathers on a cold, blustery March 27 to officially cut the ribbon on nearly $10 million worth of improvements.
The Delaware Department of Transportation took responsibility for putting the park back together after commandeering part of the campgrounds for the construction of the new Indian River Inlet Bridge. The Federal Highway Administration paid $7.06 million of the $9.87 million cost for the project.
“This is what happens when we all come together and check our egos at the door,” said Gov. Jack Markell, honoring the many state agencies involved.
The event featured former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, the U.S. Coast Guard, and state and county legislators.
“This is such a spectacular part of our state. This is such a spectacular part of our country,” said Markell. “We are so fortunate to be in this location generally.”
Improving a state treasure
DelDOT’s goal was to leave the park better than they found it, bringing the amenities up to modern standards, with new electrical, water and sewer hookups for RVs.
The northern campground has 80 new paved RV parking spots, surrounded by sand. Previously, that was an overflow lot with zero amenities, where campers killed a few nights when waiting for southside spots to become available.
A reservations system eventually fixed that problem, and a 200-spot beach parking lot and amenity station opened.
Park staff said they are “thrilled” to finally have a bathing and laundry facility on the north side.
Anglers fishing from the jetty rocks under the bridge can take advantage of 12 new parking spots for fishermen, plus a designated path that keeps pedestrians a few feet back from the fishing area.
Visitors can use the new playground, enjoy bonfire nights, make use of the pavilions and take advantage of a small outdoor amphitheater hosting music and storytelling programs.
Extra fill sand that was errantly brought in during bridge construction has been reclaimed to slightly raise the northside area’s elevation, creating a better view across the water.
Concrete from the old bridge was recycled into the parking lot’s base layer, while a side road can accommodate those waiting to enter the day-use beach area.
Longtime local surfer Steve Myers of the Delaware Surfrider Foundation thanked the State for maintaining the northside surf beach. He shared the amazement surfers felt after the 2013 beach replenishment and jetty repairs quickly smoothed into excellent surfing conditions — perhaps nicer than pre-Hurricane Sandy, he said.
To test the new amenities, 80 of DSSP’s most frequent campers were invited for a free weekend stay after the ribbon-cutting.
Camping fees vary year-round, starting at a $25 wintertime low, with higher prices during peak summer holidays.
Even Cape Henlopen State Park doesn’t have the kind of electricity and sewer amenities now found at the Indian River Inlet, Bivens said.
From the south side, campers can cross the bridge, have dinner at Hammerheads Dockside restaurant, take a nature hike and walk back. Completed in 2012, the bridge itself now includes an ADA-accessible pedestrian pathway, which doesn’t require crossing the busy Route 1 highway to go from one side to the other.
Southside renovations were completed in 2014, including 94 new campsites, six new RV sites, bathhouse renovations, additional parking for anglers and more camping renovations. During bridge construction, some southern campsites and all overflow parking were lost to the construction zone.
Bivens met a tent camper who was delighted to finally get his southside site after nine years of bridge construction.
Camping at the inlet predates the State Park system. Excess lands were managed by the highway department after the “Storm of ’62” flattened the area. The inlet was developed into an official campground and day-use beach after that, according to park staff.
Reservations can be made for all Delaware Seashore State Park campgrounds by calling 1 (877) 88-PARKS or visiting the website at www.destateparks.com.