I attended a meeting Friday night about the overcrowding issues on the state park surf fishing beaches. We have all seen the pictures of vehicles parked 4 deep on the beach. People partying and not fishing, for a while as much as it was an issue, it did not become a serious problem until this past summer. Especially at Cape Henlopen State Park , but only on the weekends and holidays. Many of us know to avoid that area like the plague when the summer is in full swing on the weekends. The best time to fish is very early in the morning until about 10 a.m. then you leave before the crowds show up. Or you just go on weekdays. Many will even tell you the fishing in the summer is a waste of time since it is just skates, rays, sharks, croaker, kingfish, and junk like that, however it is still fishing. Some just prefer fall and spring fishing over the summer junk. Actively fishing is a loose term since not everyone fishes the same. The guy who puts out 8 rods and spends all day changing bait every 15 minutes, compared to the guy who puts out one rod and checks the bait every hour if at all, or the guy who just likes to toss lures and flies. Technically they are all fishing, but as soon as they stop for a break, the tide change, or whatever, they are no longer actively fishing. So where do you draw the line? What about the guy that is learning and has no clue but he is trying? What about the bait shop that sold people equipment to go fake fish, knowing they are going to fake fish, why doesn’t the bait shop stop them before they help to add to the problem they know exists? (Clarificaton, this is not to say that bait shops are the problem, however if you knowingly sell someone gear to fake fish then you are part of the problem not the solution) Basically because they are making money off this issue and now adding to the overcrowding issue. I hear about these crowded issues almost everyday to the point it gets annoying, no offense but when someone corners me and starts on a rant about the rangers don’t care, or no one is fishing, or the beaches are too crowded etc. etc. etc. You are preaching to the choir, because I have heard it all. This meeting was set up so stakeholders and the press could help the parks come up with some solutions to these issues. I think everyone there learned a thing or two that they did not know before.
In 2014 the highest daily count of vehicles on the beach in CHSP was 987. In 2011 there were 11,380 surf tags in circulation, this year in 2015 that number is projected to hit 15, 789 with 1,100 of those being free tags for firefighters. That is over $70,000 in lost revenue for the parks and there is talk that the ladies auxiliary and the National Guard are petitioning to get their own free tags. In my personal opinion there should not be free tags for anyone. You can’t give to one group and not another. There is talk of making the surf tag just that, a surf fishing permit only and no longer a park access pass for all state parks. I think that would be a good idea, many people are using the complimentary tag just to get into the parks for free, so they should be given a free park pass instead of a surf tag. Why should the fishing beaches that are only in 3 parks, and over crowded already, be used as a free pass when all of the parks suffer from the loss of revenue? That is just some food for thought. There is also talk of making a reservation system, so you would have to let the parks know ahead of time what day you intend to drive onto the beach and sign up for an available slot. This reservation might even cost a few dollars to make, but it would be a way to limit the number of vehicles on the beach at one time. Limiting the number of vehicles is a great idea, however there is an issue of lines waiting to get onto the beach. Where do these people wait? At Fenwick Island there is no where to line up to wait to get onto a beach, except on the side of route 1 and that could be dangerous. The Fenwick Island park lot itself is already to capacity and has a line along route 1 with people waiting to pull into the lot to park. Using gates or more more check in booths will require money, something the parks are short of these days. Your surf tag money is not used exclusively for the beaches, despite what many people think. The drive on beaches are part of the park’s system whether you use the rest of the park or not, that money is used to maintain all park amenities. There is also talk of going back to the odd even system. If you have an even number on your license plate then this is your day to go and the next day is an odd number day. That was used in the past and it worked, but if CHSP is to capacity how do you get to the beach in the first place? As you can see there are some good ideas for limiting beach vehicle numbers, but how to implement them will be an issue.
Before you blame the rangers for not doing their jobs, enforcement is overwhelmed, that is a fact and this is for all of the beach parks, but mostly in Cape Henlopen. CHSP has the most crowded beaches in the summer time. The rangers are doing their jobs and then some, these folks are overwhelmed with large crowds. In fact by ten or eleven in the morning the park (CHSP) is closed due to capacity. People complain they can’t get to the drive on beach, which by then is also packed, but there is no limit to the number of vehicles you can park on the beach. There is no rule against stacking vehicles on the surf, which is parking more than one vehicle deep. There is no rule as to which direction your vehicle must face. You can park sideways if you want, people think you have to park a certain way and that is just not true. One of the proposed new rules suggested to deal with the stacking issue is to only allow people to park in single file. This would make it easier for the rangers to see who is and is not actively engaged in fishing. Everyone thought that would be a great idea. It would also cut down on tailgating because the fifty feet rule could be easily enforced. You have to be within fifty feet of your vehicle at all times when you are actively engaged in surf fishing. Technically some of these stacked vehicles are not even within fifty feet of the surf. The rangers could enforce rules easier if everyone was parked in a single file. Speaking of the rangers, at any one time in the summer they only have 3 full time rangers on duty in CHSP as well as the seasonals. That is two in the mornings to afternoon and one at night. They have to watch an entire park, including Beach Plum island to the north near Broadkill Beach. So when people complain they don’t see a ranger all day, that is because they are busy elsewhere with other issues … campgrounds, walk on beaches, even dealing with parking when the area is to capacity. All it takes is a few problems within the park and you won’t see a ranger on the beach all day long. The parks do not have enough money to hire more rangers or more seasonal workers and volunteers to fix that issue. Limiting the vehicles to a single file would help create less vehicles on the beach, more room for anglers, and allow the reservation system to be easily enforced. If you don’t have a reservation card in your window you have to leave. Eventually this system would be applied to the other park beaches because that is where people will head when CHSP is to capacity. Another concern is safety, not just for the visitors, but enforcement themselves. You get a large crowd that is drinking and rowdy on a beach, it can be a safety issue just for an officer to walk into the middle of that crowd and try to enforce rules. People tend to get belligerent when they have been drinking too much and things get out of hand. So do you get rid of drinking on the drive on beaches? Or do you allow drinking on the guarded beaches? That is a loaded question that was not really covered. Technically you are not allowed to drink on state property, maybe that should be applied to all parks as well. Masseys landing is a no drinking zone and we have all seen how well that rule works (read that with sarcasm). The problem is then you have to enforce another rule and need more people to check vehicles for booze. No one wants to have their vehicle searched and people will scream about their rights being violated. Which is a good point, but they usually are breaking a rule when screaming about their rights being violated. The problem here comes down to respecting the rules that are in place, and many do not.
Keep in mind that increased sales in SUV’s (up almost 14%) and all wheel drive vehicles (up 13%) combined with low gas prices this year will continue to create overcrowding issues. It was suggested that the beaches be for four wheel drive vehicles only, now you will have to define what type of four wheel drive, since may all wheel drive vehicles do just fine in the sand. Also enforcing the 7 inch clearance rule before even selling a tag should be enforced better. Back in the day a two wheel drive vehicle with balloon tires aired down would do just fine on the beaches.
This all boils down to how many more rules do you want to see in the parks or on the beaches? How will you help keep those rules enforced? Will you violate the ones that don’t matter to you but want others to follow? Will you help enforce the rules and volunteer for the parks? I had a guy last year wanted the people next to him thrown off the beach for not fishing and he wanted me to call a ranger to have it done. Meanwhile he was drinking out of a beer bottle (no glass on the beach), his kids were in the dunes (stay off the dunes), and the family dog was running wild (leash law). He was a bigger ticket than the guy not fishing next to him, whom was not bothering anyone. I had to listen to this guy complain for over a half an hour over and over again, mostly because he was drunk. Turns out the guy next to him, didn’t know how to surf fish, it was his first time out there, so myself and a friend of mine taught him how to surf fish. Now he was following all the rules and the complainer was still breaking a trifecta. He said it was okay that he was breaking those rules, because he was fishing and he was local to Delaware. What it really boiled down to was he didn’t like the fact the guy next to him was from out of state. If anyone feels the rules need to be heavily enforced please volunteer for the park’s service. The volunteers that help check cars on occasion at entrances can’t be there everyday or at all entrances. They know who is and who is not really going to go fishing and they can’t stop people. It all comes down to respecting the rules in place, or we will have to deal with a whole bunch more. Pay for a reservation to go onto a beach we already paid access for in the first place, but only on the weekends. No one wants to pay more money, but Delaware has the cheapest drive on beaches in the country. At Island Beach State Park in New Jersey it costs $195 in state and $225 out of state to drive onto a fishing beach. Maybe we should just triple our prices? So what would you like to see done to keep the overcrowding issues down? Once the state decides how they are going to do this I am sure there will be a public comment period. I will let everyone know when that happens, and you can send in your comments. You can complain to me but I don’t work for the state and as you already know you are preaching to the choir, I have heard it all. If everyone would just follow the rules we would not have these issues.