April 14, 2021
By Teresa Hughes, Delaware State Parks Volunteer Photographer
Growing up with a parent in the military, we moved often and lived in many areas of the United States, visiting parks and beaches. So it is no small thing for me to state that Cape Henlopen is my favorite state park. Every season in Delaware has a beauty to it. Taking up photography again in recent years has made each visit exploring Cape Henlopen State Park (CHSP) a joy.
I first discovered CHSP as I became interested in the history of the WWII Observation Towers that I kept seeing along the coast between the beaches in Delaware. My father and I had been discussing WWII and he amazed me with the facts that he remembered. He was a young preteen who had avidly read the newspaper as he had an older cousin who had been called to serve in the war. I started reading about Delaware’s involvement in WWII and was surprised to discover a German U-boat had surrendered at Fort Miles. When I also learned that Cape Henlopen had an observation tower that you could actually climb, I knew I had to visit. The view is amazing – you can see up to 14 ½ miles away! Visiting the tower and Fort Miles made history come alive for me.
Tip: Take advantage of the park programs that highlight Delaware’s history. The park staff is knowledgeable and the programs are much more interesting when you can actually see the canons, barracks, and the fortress ridge overlooking the ocean.
Climbing the observation tower at CHSP was also inspired by my love of climbing lighthouses. I was surprised to discover that the park has not only one, but two lighthouses -the East End Breakwater Lighthouse (red) and the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse (white). Although you cannot climb these lighthouses, they are very photogenic. The beauty of the lighthouses prompted my first repeat visits to Cape Henlopen.
Tip: Change your vantage point, weather conditions, and time of day to capture unique images of these park icons. Seeing them by boat or in foggy, overcast weather conditions changes their appearance. And, don’t rule out a picnic at sunset for a truly memorable experience.
When my photography expanded to include birds, I found that Gordons Pond and the bike trail along the marsh are perfect locations to observe birds in every season. I’ve photographed a variety of shorebirds in the summer, migrating sparrows in the fall, eagles and herons during the winter months, and egrets returning to their nests in the spring. One spring I discovered an owl had taken up temporary residence in an osprey nest!
Tip: If you are biking, take time to stop and look around occasionally. If you want to increase your odds for shorebirds in the summer, check the timetable for low tide at Gordons Pond when the shorebirds come in to feed.
Nature lovers will find plenty of opportunities for photography when visiting CHSP. The horseshoe crabs and ghost crabs are on every beach. I was once greeted by a fox at the toll booth. On a sunrise visit, a very tame, inquisitive young deer walked right up to greet me as I walked the beach path past the dunes. Magical!
Tip: #1 – When the Nature Center reopens, plan to visit! Did you know there are 5 aquariums, a touch tank, and a gift shop inside? The aquariums hold fish that are native to the Delaware coast. Learn more
Tip: #2 – Maintain a safe distance from the wildlife to be respectful of their space and not frighten them away. Do not attempt to attract the wildlife by feeding them. Human food is not healthy for wild animals & birds, and they do not need food from humans to survive. Wildlife can become ill if fed the wrong foods. Always dispose of your trash properly.
Each time I visit Cape Henlopen State Park, I set out to get a little exercise and have some fun. I’ve climbed the tower to look down and see a marriage proposal spelled out in the pine cones below. I’ve stopped in wonder with other hikers to watch a flock of migrating birds repeat their descent and rise off of the berried trees near the bike path. I’ve dodged swimming crabs while wading through the bay. I’ve walked the coastline chasing cresting dolphins just offshore. Once I was surprised to see billowing sails on a tall ship, the Kalmar Nyckel–a replica of a 1638 Swedish ship–sailing by Cape Henlopen. And, on one summer sunrise visit, I was walking near the towers on the beach when I heard the unexpected sound of a bagpipe playing! Every visit is unique. I’ve been creating memories in the beautiful state of Delaware.