Increased visitation to Delaware State Parks is expected to continue as more people opt for the benefits of being outdoors
After breaking attendance records in 2021, Delaware State Parks is on pace to set another visitors’ attendance mark by the end of 2022, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced today.
In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation had 47,250 active annual passes that allow daily entry into Delaware State Parks compared with 61,744 in 2021, a 31% increase.
As of April 30, 39,959 individuals had purchased an annual pass within the first two months of sales – surpassing the 39,568 passes purchased by the same date in 2021 despite two fewer months of sales. Park passes typically go on sale in December, but sales for 2022 were delayed until February due to nationwide supply-chain disruptions.
Visitation to Delaware’s 17 state parks and the Brandywine Zoo has increased by 30% in the last five years, from 6.1 million in 2017 to 7.9 million in 2021, and is up 78% over the last decade. Increased visitation is expected to continue as more people opt for the benefits of being outdoors.
“The incredible interest our Delaware State Parks have experienced since the start of the pandemic is here to stay. Like never before, the public recognizes the many benefits the nation’s best state parks offer for our health and wellbeing,” said DNREC Secretary M. Shawn Garvin. “I am incredibly proud of how our parks staff continues to meet the challenges that come with increased demand and usage of all our venues and amenities.”
Usage on some park trails has increased more than 70% during the pandemic, boat rentals at the inland pond parks increased by 24%, and the state-owned Deerfield and Garrison’s Lake golf courses saw record-breaking numbers of rounds of golf played with an increase of 37%.
Visitation to the Delaware State Parks beaches also grew, causing parking lots at Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore and Fenwick Island state parks to reach capacity, resulting in 69 lot closures in 2021. While it is common for day-use parking lots at beach parks to reach capacity on busy summer weekends, 16 of the lot closures in 2021 occurred on weekdays.
Camping and cabin reservations at Delaware State Parks have increased more than 30%, with 153,582 nights booked in 2021 compared to 117,471 nights booked in 2019. While summer has historically been the most popular time to camp in Delaware State Parks, camping and cabin reservations during the off-season started to increase in fall 2020 and continue to trend upward. Camping also draws some of the most active park users who spend both their days and nights on park grounds.
Delaware State Parks also marked its 70th anniversary in 2021 and, for the second time, won the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA) and National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) 2021 National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management. This biennial Gold Medal Award has only been given 13 times since its establishment in 1997. Delaware and Florida are the only state park systems to win the award more than once.
The division released a Strategic Plan in 2021 with core priorities and goals that will guide Delaware State Parks through 2026. Part of the plan includes the launch of Project 75 with multiple initiatives to take the division into its 75th anniversary. Project 75 includes 75,000 tree plantings in state parks, 75 new accessible amenities and $7.5 million in grants and partnership funding to support free park-based field trips, community recreational improvements, and cultural and natural resource stewardship efforts statewide.
The Division of Parks and Recreation manages an accredited zoo, marinas, golf courses, a water park and is responsible for giving interpretive tours of our state capital. The division is a steward to more than 26,000 acres of land and aims to improve public health, connect children to the outdoors, provide accessible recreation, construct and maintain a sustainable network of trails, and encourage partnerships for conversation, recreation and tourism.
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control protects and manages the state’s natural resources, protects public health, provides outdoor recreational opportunities and educates Enjoy the natural diversity of Delaware’s 17 state parks. Delawareans about the environment. The DNREC Division of Parks and Recreation oversees more than 26,000 acres in 17 state parks and the Brandywine Zoo. For more information, visit the website and connect with @DelawareDNREC on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.