State parks offer chance to leave the Black Friday crowds behind

349px-Seal_of_DelawareDOVER — All Delaware State Parks are offering an alternative to fighting massive and sometimes hostile crowds at retail stores on Black Friday — a free day of experiencing the great outdoors at one of their 14 locations.

Delaware State Parks has partnered with outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc. and is inviting the public to #OptOutside on Friday.

The gates will be open for free admission and the choices of recreation and fun will be left up to the participants.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of such an innovative and exciting movement and hope to see many families and friends enjoying our parks all day,” said Madison Watkins, marketing director for Delaware State Parks.

“Those willing to forego marathon shopping and opt instead for a day of hiking, biking and other adventures will find more than 100 miles of trails to explore throughout Delaware, spectacular locations for bird and wildlife watching, scenic views and much more.”

Last year, Recreational Equipment Inc. — a $2.4 billion co-op — shut down all 149 of its stores on Black Friday and gave each of its 12,287 employees a paid day off so they could get out from behind the cash register and enjoy the outdoors.

Jerry Stritzke, CEO for REI, said that around 1.4 million people from 170 different organizations joined his company in participating in the first #OptOutside from around the nation last year.

The company’s website estimates that 3,493,378 have pledged to participate in the program so far this year.

Mr. Stritzke, in a blog post, said this year might provide the perfect opportunity for people to enjoy some time away from it all.

“As a co-op, we share a simple belief that time in the outdoors makes us healthier and happier — as individuals and as a society,” he wrote. “This year, in particular, I worry about the divisive tone pulling at our nation’s fabric.

“In my experience, the outdoors is one of the great conveners — able to help people bridge divides. We tend to put aside differences when we are presented with the magnificence of being in nature, no matter our beliefs or allegiances.”

All Delaware State Parks gates will open at 8 a.m. on Friday. All park offices will be closed throughout the day. Killens Pond in Felton will be the only state park participating in #OptOutside in Kent County.

The State Parks Division encourages visitors to use the hashtag #OptOutside on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to show their support and invite their families and friends to join in.

Mr. Stritzke said that Recreational Equipment took a big chance when it elected to close its doors on Black Friday last year, but added that it paid dividends.

“As a retailer, this was a big decision,” said Mr. Stritzke. “We sold nothing on the biggest day in the global retail calendar. Millions of Americans joined us. It was humbling seeing such an outpouring of support.

“Our collective decision sparked a national conversation about choosing to be outdoors with family and friends over fighting it out in the aisles. People everywhere — regardless of age, sex or race — embraced the transformative power of the outdoors. We saw national and state parks join the movement and experience record visits.”

Ms. Watkins expects plenty of people will take advantage of such an opportunity to get away and breathe the fresh air at Delaware State Parks this year.

“We guarantee this will be more fun than standing in line at the mall,” she said.

State parks offering stocking stuffers

Delaware State Parks are offering a holiday gift option that lasts all year long — an annual pass to all of the state parks that lasts year-round.

The new passes, as well as surf permits, will go on sale online beginning Friday at www.destateparks.com/fees/passes and at authorized stores and park offices beginning Monday.

However, annual pass sales at Cape Henlopen State Park will be postponed for the foreseeable future due to ongoing renovation of the park office.

In a change to this year’s annual park pass, it will adhere to the outside of a vehicle’s windshield, rather than the inside.

“Many of our customers were having difficulty removing the sticker, and with tinted windshields, the Division felt it was time to put the sticker on the outside,” said Mary Voshell, chief of the Delaware State Parks’ Business Services. “On the outside, the pass will be much easier to adhere to – and remove from – the windshield.”

Ms. Voshell added, “Staff and park rangers can now more easily see the pass in order to waive customers through the entrance stations and to check for violations.”

The new annual passes are $35 for residents and $18 for residents age 62 and older.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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