Out and About in Delaware's State Parks
|by Stephen Schilly|
|Things Change Anyone who regularly reads this column knows I am passionate about the environment. It was my love of nature and the out-of-doors that led me to a career in parks and recreation. It was a goal of mine to share that appreciation of natural resources with the readers of Letters. I believe the more people know and understand the world around us, the more likely they are to respect and protect the precious natural resources that enrich our lives.
As much as I believe that principle, I couldn't help but feel I haven't quite met my objective. That's been abundantly clear to me these past few years, as I've had little or no success in even influencing my partner, Bob, to change his view of the natural world. Bob comes from an urban background. He tends to be uncomfortable with the outdoors and views it with great mistrust. To him, nature is to be seen at a distance or not at all. I previously relayed the story of when Bob and I bought the wooded lot near Rehoboth where we built our home. He absolutely refused to set foot in the dense woods until I cleared a pathway for him through the brush. It took well over a year after our house was completed for him to eventually venture to the backside of our half-acre property. I couldn't understand what he was worried about. He seemed more concerned about what creatures might be "out there", rather than enjoy the ones we could readily see like foxes, deer, squirrels and songbirds.
Here it is four years later and now Bob and I find ourselves preparing to move to Florida. I was shocked in the middle of packing, when Bob expressed how much he would miss our home and especially the woods! This couldn't be the same person who originally viewed the lot as nothing more than a "good investment." Somewhere along the line, he had experienced a complete change of heart. The residents of our woods no longer made him uncomfortable. In fact, he had come to appreciate and enjoy them. As he spoke, it was clear to me that nothing I had said, written or done was responsible for this change. It was his "one on one" experience with the forest that won him over. Mother Nature did what I could never have accomplished. I couldn't help but think there was a lesson in all this for me. Perhaps I needed to stop doing so much preaching about the environment and should simply let Mother Nature do the talking for me!
The Birds Are Back! For me, one of the sure signs of Spring is the annual migration of shorebirds along the Atlantic coast. The Point of Cape Henlopen has always served as a critical stopping point on the arduous journey of these international travelers. These birds often journey non-stop, thousands of miles to reach the Point. They time their arrival in May to coincide with horseshoe crab spawning. The eggs laid by this species serves as a high protein diet which helps the birds replace fat reserves depleted through their long migration. Recognizing the critical importance of the Point in the life cycle of these birds, the Division instituted a policy which closes the area to pedestrian and vehicular traffic from March 1 through September each year. This allows the birds to migrate, feed and reproduce in this environmentally sensitive area without disturbance from people.
Among the most important and rarest of Cape Henlopen's avian visitors are the piping plover. This once common beachnesting species has declined drastically in numbers in recent decades. The situation became so severe that in 1986 the species was declared "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. There are many reasons the species has declined including development of essential coastal habitat, human and pet disturbance of nesting areas, excessive storm tides, and predation by raccoons, foxes and seagulls. In order to help, our Division has worked closely with other state and federal agencies to protect this species when it nests on our state park beaches. Protection efforts since the late 1980s have met with varying degrees of success, but our commitment to this program remains. So far in 2005, we have four piping plover nests in Cape Henlopen. Three nests are located at Gordons Pond and one nest at the Point. The good news is a number of additional pairs of plovers have been observed. We are optimistic that further nests will be established in the near future. Both the Point and sections of Gordons Pond beach are currently closed to the pedestrian and vehicular access. If all goes well, the eggs will hatch in 2530 days. It then takes an additional 25-30 days before chicks can fly and are considered fledged. We appreciate the public's cooperation in keeping themselves and their pets out of these restricted areas. Together, we can all make a difference in helping to restore this threatened species!
Delaware Park Explorations: Killens Pond With the arrival of the summer months, the thoughts of many people predictably turn to visions of sun, sand and surf. While our coastal areas are certainly wonderful places to relax and have fun, we encourage the public to also explore other great recreational opportunities found within our state. From historic sites to beautiful natural areas, Delaware offers a wide variety of experiences for everyone. Within Delaware State Parks, historic sites such as Fort Delaware, Fort DuPont and Fort Miles beckon those interested in our state's military past. You can't beat our inland parks such as Trap Pond, Lums Pond, White Clay Creek and Brandywine Creek for their scenic environmental resources and overall pastoral beauty. There is something for everyone who is willing to take the time to explore the opportunities.
Of all our parks, Killens Pond provides perhaps the best mix of the excitement of the beaches with the quiet beauty of our inland sites. Located in central Delaware near Felton, Killens Pond is a favorite of freshwater fishermen, hikers, bikers, campers and swimmers. The pond is the perfect backdrop for a summer outing. A system of trails around the pond provide wonderful vantage points for views from every angle. The lush deciduous forest provides habitat for numerous species of song birds and deer. Beaver are seen frequently working along the banks of the pond and the nearby Murderkill River. For those visitors wanting to get out on the pond, the park rents canoes, kayaks, pedal boats and row boats throughout the summer. Located adjacent to the pond, a campground featuring two point hookup sites, primitive sites, and cabins provide accommodations for overnight visitors. If those activities aren't enough, the park also features playground facilities, ball fields and an 18 hole disc golf course. On a hot summer day, there's no better way to cool off than to take a dip at the Killens Pond Water Park. More than just a pool, this facility features a 27 foot high double waterslide and interactive water-based play features such as the Floating Lily Pad Fun Walk. The main pool features a zero depth, gently sloping access to provide easy entrance for people of all ages, ability and skill levels. A tot pool provides fun activities for kids including a frog water slide, bubblers, and ground water jets. For summer fun a little different from the rest, why not come explore this unique facility? For information about Killens Pond, their programs, fees and activities contact the park office at 302-284-4526.
Nature's Best Bets
If you are looking for fun and exciting ways to spend your spare time, why not check out the Seaside Nature Center at Cape Henlopen State Park? The Center is open 7 days a week, year-round, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. We will have extended hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning June 13 and ending September 6. The Center provides programs designed for individuals and families. A highlight of any visit is viewing the five 1000-gallon aquariums that feature different aquatic habitats. You'll be glad you took the time to explore this exciting facility!
Seining the Bay Sundays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Investigate the diversity of life in the shallows of the Delaware Bay, using a 30 foot net. This hands-on program will introduce you to the organisms that inhabit our coastal waters. Participants are encouraged to get in the water and pull nets, so you must wear closed-toed shoes during the program. Tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. the day of the program. Programs will begin as soon as all tickets are sold, or no later than 9:15 a.m. Maximum of six tickets per person. Limited to 30 participants. $4.00 per person.
Birding Basics Saturdays, 8:00 a.m.-9:30 a.m. Come brush up on your birding skills. We'll take a walk through a maritime forest, coastal dunes, and to the shore to look and listen for birds. Some binoculars and field guides available, but bring them if you have them.
Osprey Outing Sundays , 9:00-10:30 a.m. Bring your binoculars for an Osprey Outing. We'll learn all about ospreys, how they hunt, what they eat, and how they raise their young. Then we will journey to look at an active nest and watch the parents as they raise their young.
For more information on these and other park programs, contact the Seaside Nature Center at 302-645-6852 or visit their website at www.destateparks.com.
Stephen Schilly is Park Operations Administrator for the Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation. He may be reached at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 6 June 3, 2005