Delaware State Parks honored as top state parks system

Delaware State Parks honored as top state parks system in nation by winning NRPA gold medal


National Recreation and Park Association Gold Medal Award
National Recreation and Park Association Gold Medal Award

DOVER (Sept. 22, 2015) – The American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA), in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), has announced that DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation (Delaware State Parks) has won the 2016 National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management in the state parks systems category. The award recognizes state parks systems as judged on their ability to address the needs of those they serve through the collective energies of citizens, staff and elected officials.

“The Delaware State Parks have a significant impact on the quality of life for our residents and visitors – providing opportunities to be active, explore nature and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors,” said Governor Jack Markell. “This is a tremendous honor and I commend the staff of the Division of Parks and Recreation, along with the many volunteers throughout our state, for their commitment to continually improving our parks and all they offer.”

the point at cape henlopen state park, dsf, delaware surf fishing
The point at Cape Henlopen State park

“What a tremendous honor for DNREC and the Division of Parks and Recreation to be recognized with the NRPA Gold Medal as the best managed state parks system in the country,” said Governor Jack Markell. “This recognition and prestigious award is a high accolade for our state. And what a fitting testament to the fact that Delaware State Parks are so significant to our economy, and that they contribute so much to quality of life in helping make Delaware such a great place to live and visit. This recognition is one that Delaware State Parks richly deserves.”

“I hear every day from Delawareans and visitors alike how special and beloved parks are for everyone who experiences them,” said DNREC Secretary David Small. “We have always known that the amenities, experiences and landscapes that our state parks provide are world-class, and now this is recognized nationally.  While the NRPA Gold Medal will be a great promotional tool, DNREC is proudest of how this award speaks to the outstanding efforts of our entire Division of Parks and Recreation team. Director Bivens, the administrative staff, employees at all of the parks, and our amazing volunteers share a piece of this incredible honor.”

Herring Point Beach ... Cape Hanlopen State Park CHSP
This is Herring Point Beach a in Cape Henlopen State Park. 

The NRPA gold medal has been awarded every other year since 1997. Delaware is the 10th state to win it, and by far the smallest state parks system among the winners, which include Florida (three-time winner), Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee. This year, Delaware State Parks was up against state parks systems in Wyoming, Georgia (a seven-time finalist), and Missouri (a three-time finalist). 

“We are honored to be recognized with such an esteemed award,” said Delaware State Parks Director Ray Bivens. “It is truly a testament to the hard work and dedication of Parks staff and volunteers who make the park system safe, fun, educational and innovative. Being recognized as a Gold Medalist is a wonderful way to highlight the amenities that make Delaware State Parks the finest state park system in the country. With Gov. Markell’s enthusiastic support – especially with the progress of the Governor’s Trails Initiative – Delaware State Parks has reached a pinnacle in recreational recognition. Undoubtedly, the Governor’s keen interest in and support for our state parks contributed to Delaware becoming the first small state to win this prestigious award. We also want to acknowledge our Congressional delegation and the General Assembly for investing in our parks system – and being integral to this award coming to Delaware through the consistent and unwavering support they have provided.”

holts landing state park, ocean view delaware
Entrance to Holts Landing State Park
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Founded in 1965, the Gold Medal Awards program honors communities in the U.S. that demonstrate excellence in parks and recreation through long-range planning, resource management, volunteerism, environmental stewardship, program development, professional development and agency recognition. Applications are separated into seven classes, with five classes based on population, one class for armed forces recreation communities and the State Park System Class award.

A panel of five park and recreation professionals reviews and judges all application materials. Judges are chosen for their considerable experience and knowledge in parks and recreation on both the local and national levels.

New rd. Bay access, Kite Beach, rehoboth bay, delaware sunset, surf rack, fishing rods, mullet, flounder, dsf, dssp, sussex county, delaware, rehoboth, dewey
Kite Beach … New rd. Rehoboth bay access, Delaware Seashore Park

While Director Bivens was not informed about what specific qualifications set Delaware State Parks apart from other competitors, he believes the Gold Award recognition was based on Delaware State Parks’ unique qualifications.

·         While Delaware is a small state geographically, the diversity and quality of the amenities offered are on par with most larger states. Amenities include a waterpark, Brandywine Zoo, two golf courses, ocean parks, two marinas and a civil war fort, among others.  Visitors can choose from a wide variety of recreational opportunities such as horseback riding, rock climbing, surf fishing, hunting, zip lining and even cricket.

·         Similarly, Delaware State Parks’ full time staff is also small and, therefore, relies heavily on public-private partnerships and strong volunteer support. For example, the support of various “Friends” groups provides more than 110,000 volunteer hours per year, the equivalent of 56 extra full time staff.  Recreational activities and park amenities are also boosted by the support of concessionaires such as Coastal Kayak at Fenwick Island State Park, Go Ape at Lums Pond State Park, and Forewinds – which operates the Garrision’s Lake and Deerfield golf courses.

  • Other qualifications that Director Bivens cites as putting Delaware State Parks on top include the Division’s focus on strategic sites and trails: implementation of plans and construction already underway at sites such as NVF in Yorklyn, Auburn Heights State Park and Fort DuPont State Park in Delaware City. Trails that have been completed this year under the Governor’s First State Trails and Pathways Initiative include the popular Gordons Pond Trail and the Assawoman Canal Trail in Cape Henlopen State Park.
  • In addition to the creation of these trails, Director Bivens believes that the Division’s commitment to improvements at existing parks also played a major role in winning the Gold Award. Major campground renovations were completed this year at Delaware Seashore State Park’s campground as well as at the fishing pier in Cape Henlopen State Park. In addition, planning is well underway for improvements at the Lums Pond State Park campground and the waterpark at Killens Pond State Park.
snowy owl, delaware seashore state park, irruption, arctic migration, migrating raptors
Snowy Owl seen last year in Delaware Seashore State Park

The American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration is a non-profit organization founded to advance knowledge related to the administration of recreation and parks; to encourage scholarly efforts by both practitioners and educators that would enhance the practice of park and recreation administration; to promote broader public understanding of the importance of parks and recreation to the public good; and, to conduct research, publish scholarly papers and sponsor seminars related to the advancement of park and recreation administration.  For more information, visit

The National Recreation and Park Association is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing park, recreation and conservation efforts that enhance quality of life for all people. Through its network of 50,000 recreation and park professionals and citizens, NRPA encourages the promotion of healthy and active lifestyles, conservation initiatives and equitable access to parks and public space. For more information, visit For digital access to NRPA’s flagship publication, Parks & Recreation, visit

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