Parks, trails paying big dividends
More than 1,100 Sussex County fourth-graders visited Trap Pond State Park recently as part of the Delaware Division of Parks Healthy Kids Day. They were turned on to bird watching, bicycling and a host of other outdoor activities. The event is one of many initiatives underway in Delaware to address a phenomenon known as nature deficit disorder, which can cause stress and anxiety in children. One of the best prescriptions for that disorder is unstructured free play, which is shown to improve student performance and enhance leadership qualities.
Those health benefits, not just for children but also for adults, were the focus of an annual Sussex Outdoors conference last week at the Stockley Center south of Georgetown. In the midst of a 750-acre complex that promises to host lots of future outdoor opportunities and healthy living initiatives, Gov. Jack Markell once again confirmed Delaware’s commitment to the parks’ Child In Nature initiatives and trails initiatives as important to the health of the state’s people and economy.
“There’s an overwhelming demand for trails and pathways in Delaware providing more opportunity for people of all ages to get outdoors and to strengthen our economy. People these days have choices where to vacation and where to live and raise their families. They want to go to a place that everyone can enjoy, and our trails are adding to all of that.”
Markell noted that Delaware’s location within a couple of hours of 11 million people means trails have an extra draw. “Our studies show that communities marketing their trails and outdoor opportunities well can bring in an extra $1 million per year. Between food, lodging and gear purchases, it’s estimated the Junction and Breakwater Trail is already bringing $600,000 per year in additional revenue to the Lewes and Rehoboth area,” he said.
Markell praised the General Assembly for its support of the state’s aggressive trails and pathways initiatives. Sen. Bob Venables of Laurel summed up the initiatives succinctly at the conference: “There has been some pushback on this program, but I know someday people will say, ‘I’m not sure why they did this, but we have a better state because of what they did.’”