Cape Henlopen State Park

Lewes, Delaware

Open Daily 8 a.m. to Sunset

History

The Nation's First Public Lands

Cape Henlopen has always been a popular area, valuable for its natural resources as well as for commercial shipping, military defense, and recreation. Many books and articles have been published about the fascinating history of the Cape, but one of the most significant milestones occured after 1682, when the current lands of the state of Delaware were granted to William Penn. Penn proclaimed that Cape Henlopen and its natural resources were to be for the common usage of the citizens of Lewes and Sussex County, thus establishing some of the nation's first "public lands."

Cape Henlopen's strategic location at the mouth of the Delaware Bay led to its role in local shipping and military history. The historic Henlopen Lighthouse no longer helps to guide vessels through the treacherous bay waters, but the two stone "breakwaters" barriers off the point of the Cape, completed in 1869 and 1901, still form a safe harbor for boats during rough seas.

With the onset of World War II, the U.S. Army established a military base at Cape Henlopen in 1941. Bunkers and gun emplacements were camouflaged among the dunes, and concrete observation towers were built along the coast to spot enemy ships. In 1964, the Department of Defense declared 543 acres of the Cape lands as surplus property. The State of Delaware accepted the property and established Cape Henlopen State Park.

Today

Today, the 5193-acre park contains a wealth of natural beauty. In addition to the attractive bay and ocean beaches, the Gordon's Pond Wildlife Area features a unique saltwater Inpoundment. Along the coast, the Great Dune rises 80 feet above sea level, and further inland, the famous "walking dunes" slowly move across the pine forests. A broad salt marsh stretches along the park's western boundary. The variety of habitats within the park make it a valuable home to many species of birds, reptiles, and mammals. During the summer, the park protects nesting areas along the coastline for piping plovers, a threatened species of shorebird.

Hiking trails and interpretive displays throughout the park help visitors to learn about these fascinating natural features. In addition, several WWII-era bunkers provide scenic overlooks, and one of the concrete observation towers has been renovated to provide a panoramic view of the Cape.