DNREC’s Parks and Rec wins national award

Among the amenities at Delaware parks contributing to its top designation was the waterpark at Killens Pond State Park. (Delaware State News file/Dave Chambers)

Among the amenities at Delaware parks contributing to its top designation was the waterpark at Killens Pond State Park. (Delaware State News file/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — The American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration, in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association, has announced that DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation 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 efforts 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,” Gov. Jack Markell said in a news release.

“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.”

DNREC Secretary David Small said the honor was earned through a team effort.

“I hear every day from Delawareans and visitors alike how special and beloved parks are for everyone who experiences them,” Mr. Small said.

“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.”

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).

‘Honored to be recognized’

“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.”

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.

Delaware’s qualifications

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, including:

•Diversity and quality of amenities, including 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 cricket.

•Strong reliance on public-private partnerships and 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.

•The division’s focus on strategic sites and trails, including 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.

•The division’s commitment to improvements at existing parks. 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 underway for improvements at the Lums Pond State Park campground and the waterpark at Killens Pond State Park.

For more information, visit www.aapra.org.

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