Home » Arts & Life » Preserving the Past for Delaware’s Future
  • Article

No one can predict the extent of its impact, but Delaware tourism professionals are confident that creation of a national park or monument will bring significant economic benefits to the First State.

“National parks bring in a lot of out-of-state visitation, a lot of out-of-state revenue,” said Linda Parkowski, state tourism director. “We feel that tourism would reap huge benefits” from a national park.

“Many people travel to visit national parks. They like to check off the ones they have been to,” said Sarah Willoughby, executive director of the Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau. “If they visit [a national park in Delaware], they will explore other attractions, and spend on dining and shopping,” she said.

Former New Castle Historic Alliance president Esther Lovlie discusses possible impact of a national park.

Former New Castle Historic Alliance president Esther Lovlie discusses possible impact of a national park.

Video

Preserving the Past for Delaware’s Future

Having a Delaware destination listed on the National Park Service website “gives us another area of exposure,” she said.

“A partnership with the National Park Service is another way of putting New Castle, and Delaware, on the map,” said Esther Lovlie, past president of the New Castle Historic Alliance and owner of the Trader’s Cove Coffee Shop at Penn’s Place in New Castle.

No studies of a national park’s impact on the Delaware or regional economy have been conducted, Parkowski and Willoughby said.

But Blaine Phillips, Mid-Atlantic director for the Conservation Fund, said “it is well documented that national parks play a huge role in boosting local economies — tourism and other services.” He cited National Park Service studies that found that for every dollar spent on national parks, four dollars is returned to the local economy. “Retailers understand that, and awareness is broadening to the entire business community,” he said.

The Conservation Fund hired RK&K Engineers to project the traffic impact if the Woodlawn property in Brandywine Hundred and Delaware County, Pa., were included in a national park. The company estimated that an additional 110,000 visitors a year would be added to the 140,000 who already visit the parkland.

RK&K based its estimates on comparisons with four parks whose characteristics appear comparable to the 1,100-acre Woodlawn property: Greenbelt Park in Maryland, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia, Great Falls Park in Virginia, and Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania.

The traffic impact, RK&K estimated, would be about 120 additional vehicles per day inside the park area.

“What they’re trying to say,” Willoughby said, “is that this isn’t going to be like Yellowstone. We won’t have cars on Route 202 lined up to go along Naamans Road to Ramsey Road.”

But, she added, the people inside those 120 vehicles represent potential hotel and restaurant guests in the greater Wilmington area and potential visitors to historic, cultural and environmental sites in the region.

“It’s hard to quantify but people will come, stay, eat, drink and learn of other sites,” she said.

The addition of the Woodlawn property to the historic sites proposed by Sen. Tom Carper for a proposed national park — Old Swedes Church and Fort Christina in Wilmington, the Sheriff’s House and the Old Courthouse in New Castle, the Green in Dover, the John Dickinson Plantation in Kitts Hummock and the Ryves Holt House in Lewes — gives the park recreational and environmental dimensions that will add to its appeal, Parkowski said. “Ecotourism is getting bigger in Delaware,” she said.

“Woodlawn expands the park,” Lovlie said, “making it appealing to people interested in hiking as well as history.”

Tourism is already the state’s third-largest industry, employing about 39,000 people and attracting 7.1 million visitors in 2010, and generating $400 million in state and local government taxes and fees, according to a report prepared earlier this year for the Delaware Tourism Office.

Parkowski also said the state’s recent efforts to package tourism destinations — the Delaware Wine and Ale Trail, and the Delaware History Trail, for example — have proven popular with visitors. The history trail’s website drew 7,000 hits the week it was launched, she said. “Consumers like prepackaged items,” she said.

“A national park gives Delaware another marketing piece,” Willoughby said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”