Delaware Seashore State Park marks 50 years with sandcastle contest

DEWEY BEACH — 2017 has been all about celebrating 50 years of operation for the Delaware Seashore State Park between Dewey and Bethany beaches.

In May, it celebrated fishing in the park during the Old Inlet Bait & Tackle Shop’s Spring Surf Fishing Tournament. They’ll be celebrating the

Creatures great and small will do Delaware Seashore State Park Saturday during its 37th annual sandcastle contest. (Submitted photo)

Rehoboth and Indian River bays on Aug. 26 with a kayak “paddlefest” and they’ll be celebrating the Indian River Inlet on Sept. 23 with a camping event.

This Saturday though, it’s all about the beach.

The main attraction is the 37th annual sandcastle contest which Laura Scharle, interpretive programs manager of Seashore State Park, says has become a park tradition.

“It’s just a lot of good old-fashioned family fun,” she said. “People make all sorts of really interesting sand sculptures. One year a guy built a full-sized car out of sand and sat in it during judging. We also see really cool marine animal sculptures, like dolphins and alligators. Classic castles do really well too.”

Aside from paying the daily park fee ($5 per vehicle registered in Delaware, $10 for out-of-state), both viewing and participating in the sandcastle competition is free.

“We usually have anywhere from a hundred to a couple hundred people competing at once, depending on the weather,” said Ms. Scharle.

“One of the fun things is that we really encourage amateurs to come out and enter the contest. We don’t get too many expert sand sculptors come out. Those competitions happen in Rehoboth Beach and Wildwood, New Jersey — this one is much more family friendly.”

The beach celebration and sandcastle contest will take place at the South Inlet Day Area beach, near the bathhouse. The event and registration begin at 9:30 a.m. — there is no pre-registration. Participants are advised to come early as the parking lots are expected to fill quickly. Judging begins at 1 p.m. and prizes will be awarded afterward.

“Our judges will be looking at four different categories: originality and creativity, structural complexity, aesthetic appeal and use of natural materials,” said Ms. Scharle. “We have great prizes that have been donated from stores throughout the beach towns like restaurant gift cards, T-shirts, toys and home furnishings.”

Ms. Scharle said team sizes often range from one to six people.

Sand artist Eric Bollinger, in orange shirt, will hold an all-day demonstration Saturday during the contest. (Submitted photo)

Fifty-year history

To ring in the park’s 50th anniversary, park staff will be expanding the sandcastle contest beyond construction and judging.

There will be hands-on, beach-themed activities for kids, an ongoing sandcastle building demonstration by sand artist Eric Bollinger and a live-action demonstration by state park lifeguards. An extensive park history exhibit will be on display that showcases the last 100-plus years through a collection of old maps, photos and other park archives.

“Back in the ’40s and ’50s, people were already camping here even when it wasn’t a state park,” said Ms. Scharle,

“The piece of land between Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach was actually managed by the state highway department until they turned it over to the state parks commission in 1967. A lot has changed over the past 50-60 years. The park isn’t technically an island, but it has a lot of the same characteristics, so it’s very dynamic. For instance, a single storm can really change the landscape quite a bit. After a huge storm in 1962, the land was completely flattened and covered with sand, now it looks totally different.”

As a side project to catalogue the park’s history, staff has been compiling a Delaware Seashore State Park Family Scrapbook. Ms. Scharle said the park was asking anyone who has old family photos of the park to share them on their Facebook page. Photos must be amateur and older than 10 years to qualify.

“It’s really been eye-opening to see how the park has evolved through these old photos,” she said. “We’ve been seeing a lot of the different bridges that have spanned the inlet. There have been five of them. The first one was built back in 1934.”

She said the submitted photos will be collected in an online gallery in the fall, some will likely be used in future park exhibits. All submitted photos will also be entered into a contest to win a free two-night stay at the waterfront cottages at the park. Monthly winners will also win T-shirts. To submit photos, visit destateparks.com/DSSP50th or facebook.com/delawareseashorestatepark.

An aerial photo of what is now the Delaware Seashore State Park several months after the large “Ash Wednesday Storm” in 1962. The storm flattened the landscape and covered everything with sand. Classified as a level 5 by the Dolan-Davis scale, it was one of the 10 worst storms in the United States in the 20th century. Over a three-day period, it was estimated to have killed 40 people, injured over 1,000 and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage in six states. (Submitted photo)

Although 50 years have brought a lot of change to the park, Ms. Scharle hopes that at least one thing will remain constant for the next five decades: the park being a family destination.

“Part of the mission of the Division of Parks and Recreation is to preserve and conserve our natural and cultural resources so to some extent I’d really like the park to stay the same,” she said.

“We’d love to continue seeing families who’ve been coming here for the last 50 years keep coming and bringing their children and grandchildren down through the generations.”

For more information about other park programs, visit destateparks.com or call the Indian River Life-Saving Station at (302) 227-6991.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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