Restrictions on the numbers of people who can enter Delaware State Parks make sense during the COVID-19 pandemic — until it’s you and your dog being turned away from Cape Henlopen.
“I enjoy taking my dog there,” said Ali Drake of Milford. She and her friends left home about noon on a recent Saturday.
“We were turned away from the park as soon as we got there.” she said. “We had limited options because my dog was with us. There aren’t a lot of dog beaches in the area.”
Ultimately, they went to Slaughter Beach.
Being turned away is irritating, beachgoers said, but not as irritating as not being able to call someone to ask if the site is packed, or to reserve a spot.
“They have a phone number for Cape,” said Kadie Wilson, who was with Drake. “I called them. As soon as you call, it gives you a disconnected tone. They have an email, but I haven’t tried to contact them that way.”
“Park closures at the beach parks in the summer are common,” said Shauna McVey, a community relations coordinator for the Delaware State Parks. “We communicate with the public when closures are anticipated due to capacity limits. Our regular visitors know that closures are routine during summer weekends.”
State parks are thriving during the coronavirus pandemic, because they offer fresh air ways to get out and socialize with friends under state guidelines.
But the parks also have a 60% occupancy rule right now.
And what is given can so easily be taken away. Killens Pond State Park opened its water park on July 11, only allowing a 30 percent capacity. It said masks and social distancing was required and that cleaning was being stepped up.
But it closed the next week because a worker tested positive for COVID-19. It reopened again July 24 after a deep clean the night before.
The parks are losing money, even as people clamor to get inside.
Cape Henlopen’s entrance revenue from July 3 to July 8, which included the Fourth of July weekend, was down 31% at Cape Henlopen, McVey said.
Concessions and shop revenue is down, too. Workers at places such as Killens Pond Water Park have had to find other jobs, and Killen’s Pond has lost volunteers from other states.
But there’s an upside, too.
“Capacity limitations at beach-area Delaware State Parks have helped maintain fields where vehicles park and slow roadside erosion, as vehicles are not allowed to park on the sides of the roads or in the grass during those times,” McVey said.
The park has also been able to pursue certain construction projects, as well as perform heavy cleaning and get tile work and masonry completed.
Those allowed in the parks have to adhere to coronavirus guidelines regulated by the Division of Public Health.
Guests must bring masks or face coverings to wear in park offices, nature centers and restroom areas. Social distancing of at least 6 feet is required between those of different households.
The crowds seem to be complying, Wilson said.
“There are signs all over the park that remind people they need a mask and need to stay 6 feet apart.” she said. “On the beach there seems to be 6 feet between everyone. I didn’t see anyone out there actually enforcing it. It could just be people’s own decisions.”