The new Big Chill Beach Club at the Indian River Inlet in Delaware Seashore State Park is one new amenity that may be enticing people to spend more nights at Delaware’s state parks.

One of the first things Shannon Yarnall does after returning home from the family’s annual camping trip at Delaware Seashore State Park in Rehoboth Beach is to book next year’s stay.

That’s because she knows if she waits too long, there will be no spots left, according to The News Journal.

“Most of the camp sites are filled up when we come,” she said. “We have beautiful beaches in Delaware. The secret’s out.”

The reason Yarnall books in advance, and why some people may have a hard time finding a last-minute camping spot, is because Delaware state parks are seeing a record number of overnight stays.

More than 16,500 additional campers stayed overnight at camp sites, cabins and cottages throughout the state in 2017 – a 19% increase from 2016, according to officials with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Parks and Recreation (DNREC).

“These numbers show that our award-winning state parks system provides high-quality experiences that all Delawareans can enjoy,” DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin said in a press release. “More than five million visitors come to our state parks, which boosts our tourism economy tremendously. Our state parks staff, volunteers and concessionaires do an outstanding job providing top-notch campgrounds, educational programs, trails, historic sites, and outdoor recreation opportunities. These new figures bear that out.”

In the last five years, overnight stays have nearly doubled, growing from 67,453 visitors in 2011 to 104,469 in 2017. On average, Delaware’s 16 state parks see about 5 million visitors annually, said Delaware State Parks Director Ray Bivens.

“Last year, when we opened Big Chill [in Delaware Seashore State Park], we filled that parking lot on a Tuesday and a Wednesday. Usually that’s a weekend thing,” Bivens said. “We’re seeing that cross of day use, overnight stays and trails is more popular than ever.

“We used to think of Memorial Day to Labor Day as our busy season, but there were weekends in late April and May where you couldn’t even get a campground,” he said. “Now that things are getting tougher to get, people are planning further out.”

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