A sand sculpture sits out front, while inside the building, visitors check out a large map displaying different nature areas in the state, inquire about purchasing hunting licenses and put their hands on a horseshoe crab sitting in a large tank.
This is the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s building at the annual Delaware State Fair, one of the most popular traditions in Kent and Sussex counties. The 104th edition of the fair once again includes exhibits from DNREC aimed at educating people about the First State’s wildlife and natural areas, as well as providing services like selling hunting and fishing licenses.
Around 300,000 people visit the fair during its July run every year, and many of them stop by the intersection of Holloway Street and Rider Road to check out what DNREC has to offer.
The agency has participated in the state fair for decades, but it expanded its exhibits a few years ago. Staff for the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife, which oversees the DNREC building, traveled to fairs up and down the East Coast to get ideas for how they could improve their offerings and came back with many exciting possibilities in mind.
This year, the Department once again offers a host of informative and entertaining displays that highlight its many duties and much of what the state has to offer in outdoor recreation. Whether you have questions about fishing regulations, want something to entertain your kids or are just hoping to cool off inside an air-conditioned building during what is invariably one of the hottest stretches of the year, the DNREC space has something for everyone.
“I want them to identify with all the resources the state has to offer, how we’re trying to protect those resources for future generations and how many opportunities there are to visit fish and wildlife areas, parks and other lands we have manage,” says Pat Emory, director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife. “I don’t think many people realize how many outdoor experiences they can have on properties managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. So, through exhibits and interaction with staff at the DNREC State Fair building, we’re trying to make the public aware of all the outdoor opportunities that are available to them.”
Perhaps the most popular feature are the fish tanks where people can observe different kinds of fish from the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware Bay and freshwater ponds throughout the state. It’s a big draw with children, as is the nearby touch tank where people can put their hands in the water and feel rocks, starfish and a horseshoe crab.
This year’s winning trout and waterfowl stamp drawings hang on a wall by the door, near an exhibit offering information about ospreys. Displays in the center of the room provide an overview of DNREC’s eight divisions, with a hazmat suit set up to highlight the DNREC Division of Waste and Hazardous Substances.
Booths enable people to interact with representatives from partner organizations like the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and Delaware Mobile Surf-Fishermen and ask questions about hunting and fishing regulations. In the back room, people can watch a video about Delaware’s natural areas, learn about deer hunting and check out some of the many jobs available at DNREC.
“When I think of what the No. 1 goal is with DNREC’s participation at the Delaware State Fair, it’s the opportunity to provide an environment where people can learn more about DNREC, get their questions answered and better understand our mission. It’s important that Delawareans engage with our employees and see first-hand our commitment to protecting and enhancing our environment,” Lisa Myura, office manager for the Division of Fish and Wildlife, says.
“At the Delaware State Fair, while many of the displays are tailored to hunters and anglers, the other divisions are represented and employees are on site to answer questions on all things from energy efficiency to regulations to wetland conservation efforts and enforcement. We are a large organization and our employees work extremely hard so it’s nice when the public gets a chance to have an informal discussion on the topics they too are passionate about and visiting the DNREC building at the Delaware State fair gives them that opportunity.”
Outside the building sits a solar-powered charging station where people can plug their phones in. Just around the corner from the charging station, past the giant horseshoe crab statue, is an airstream trailer owned by the DNREC Division of Parks and Recreation. There, people can buy state park swag and learn about the state’s 17 award-winning parks. It’s a popular stop for the many who love Delaware’s parks.
New this year is a fishing contest where people can try to catch bass at Lums Pond, Killens Pond and Trap Pond. One fish at each location has been tagged, and the first person at each location to catch the fish, take a photograph of it and clip the tag will win a four-night stay at the Delaware State Parks, along with a 2024 parks pass.
Delawareans who buy their hunting licenses for the 2023-24 season will be entered to win a raffle for a low-number license. As anyone familiar with the state’s obsession with low-digit license plates can attest, such items are popular, and DNREC expects people to line up for a chance to snag hunting license number 000232. The winner will be selected in a drawing by the governor on Thursday.
While low-number hunting licenses are no longer drawn by lottery every year as they once were, this raffle could spark interest in reviving that lottery, according to DNREC.
On Saturday, the Department will host the junior and senior Delaware State Duck and Goose Calling Championship, with the winners getting gift cards to Cabela’s. Tuesday is Kids’ Day, and to mark the occasion there will be colonial games with staff from Delaware’s First State Heritage Park. Employees from the DNREC Division of Water will also be present with fossils, enabling visitors to explore the distant past, such as what dinosaurs once roamed nearby.
Both Tuesday and Thursday, meanwhile, will give children opportunities to make bluebird boxes they can take home and paint, while throughout the 10 days of the fair people will be able to receive instruction on shooting a bow and arrow and view vehicles used by Delaware Natural Resources Police. Thursday will also feature the Division of Waste and Hazardous Substances, which will be set up at a booth inside the DNREC building offering information on Delaware’s Recyclopedia tool as well as reusable shopping bags people can pick up.
“This has been a great learning experience for so many,” Emory says of the DNREC exhibits. “I see people come in and they’re seeing a whole different aspect of DNREC free of charge, the kids get to see and touch many different things and you can see the excitement on their faces when they reach into the touch tank or see the fish in the large tanks. Who knows, it might set off that spark in some of them and have them say, well, I want a career doing this, or I see now why it’s so important to protect these environments.”