Delaware Seashore State Park & Indian River Inlet
History of Indian River Inlet
It’s a cold and snowy evening in January of 1889, and Edward Melson, a surfman of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, faces harsh winds and pounding surf as he walks down the beach, headed towards the Indian River Inlet. Although the blowing sand stings his face and each incoming wave threatens his intended path, he must stay alert and keep his attention towards the ocean – these are the perfect conditions for a captain at sea to misjudge the water and run aground. It is just before 4 a.m. when Melson reaches the key box on the north side of the inlet. Relieved that his shift is half-over, he quickly turns the key in his patrol clock so that upon his return to the station, the Keeper can confirm he completed his patrol.
Surfman Melson was stationed at the Indian River Inlet Life-Saving Station, located just north of the Indian River Inlet. Melson was just one of many surfmen that patrolled our nation’s coastlines from 1871–1915 as part of a large government agency dedicated to saving lives at sea—the United States Life-Saving Service. The Indian River Life-Saving Station, however, responded to more shipwrecks than some of its neighboring stations because of its close proximity to the Indian River Inlet – an ever-changing waterway that was often very challenging to navigate. Over the past two centuries, the Indian River Inlet has taken multiple forms and has even moved up and down the coast. Some strong winter storms have caused the inlet to fill in at times, whereas other storms have caused it to reopen, and not always in the same place.
After the inlet was stabilized in the late 1930s, the first bridge was built spanning the inlet. It was around this time that the ample recreational opportunities and sheer beauty of the area was starting to be recognized by both Delaware residents and out-of-state visitors. In 1967 the land surrounding the Indian River Inlet was established as Delaware Seashore State Park, which now comprises 6.5 miles of undeveloped, wild coastline.
About Delaware Seashore State Park
Over a million people come to visit Delaware Seashore State Park each year for a multitude of outdoor recreational opportunities. The park features two day-use beach bathhouses and two guarded beaches in the summer. Around the inlet you can find an amenity-packed waterfront campground, complete with tent sites, 3-point hook-up sites, a camp store, laundry facilities, two restaurants within walking distance and, of course, ample fishing opportunities. The Indian River Marina, located on the north side of the inlet, is also run by the state park and includes 294 wet slips, 194 dry storage racks, 28 charter boats, two head boats, a bait and tackle shop, waterfront cottages and a restaurant. For those that are more interested in fishing from the surf, the park has four surf fishing vehicle crossings that allow for permitted vehicles to drive onto the beach for surf fishing.
Delaware Seashore State Park Activities
Although fishing, camping and enjoying the beach seem to get the most attention at Delaware Seashore, visitors are encouraged to take part in the wide variety of educational programs that take place year-round. From surf fishing and crabbing lessons to kayak eco-tours and historic reenactments, there is almost always something going on in the park for the whole family.
Also not to be forgotten is the Delaware Seashore trail system, nature preserves and bay access points. Between Burton Island and Thompson Island Nature Preserves, as well as the Fresh Pond tract of the park, there are over five miles of trails to be explored. The park also has three spots to access Rehoboth Bay for kayaking, wind surfing, kite-boarding, clamming, crabbing and even more fishing.
About the Indian River Life-Saving Station
The Indian River Life-Saving Station is still situated in its original location, just one-and-a-half miles north of the inlet. Today it is restored as a museum to its 1905 appearance and acts as the main visitor center for Delaware Seashore State Park. Historic life-saving reenactments and programs are held throughout the year, many times with the help of the crew at the Indian River Coast Guard Station.
Much has changed along our coast since Surfman Melson was patrolling the beach and keeping watch for ships in distress. However, the Indian River Life-Saving Station and the Indian River Inlet remain in a special spot as they are surrounded by undeveloped park land, much like the scenery Edward Melson encountered each night as he walked the beaches so many years ago.