NOTE: This is an archive article from 1992. It may contain out-of-date information.
Delaware Audubon will award the Society's 1992 Conservation Award to Leah L. Roedel at its Annual Meeting on May 8, 1992 at the Sheraton Inn (Newark). Leah's interest in public recreation began with participation in her local PTA. She solicited door to door to establish summer playgrounds and a Teen Center in her community. From 1958 to 1964, she was active at the state level in parks and recreation for the PTA, serving as the State Chairperson of Recreation. Since that time, Leah has devoted much of her time and talent to projects of community services and recreation.
The Community Services Council, a United Fund associate, produced a study of leisure time needs and services in 1958. The study concluded, "Unless we get some land, we won't have recreation." Leah accepted the challenge. She took on the leadership of the Recreation and Group Work Planning Committee of the Welfare Council of Delaware. She ran up and down the state, talking to everyone about the need to acquire land. The resulting bill was the first to appropriate monies ($3,250,000) for the acquisition of public park recreation and conservation lands. This bill passed just in time to buy Brandywine Creek State Park, the first major park the state ever purchased.
Leah served two terms as president of the Citizen's Committee for Parks. A non-profit organization of private citizens, this committee promoted parks and recreational facilities for the people of Delaware. She was also active at the Delaware Nature Education Center, working on the Clean Water Act. She credits DNEC (now the Delaware Nature Society) with expanding her environmental knowledge and horizons.
In 1964, Governor Carvel appointed Leah to the State Park Commission. She served for six years and was chairperson for six more years when it became the State Parks Advisory Council. "By 1980 we wanted to have nine state parks, geographically located and open for the public. That meant each park had to have a road, parking lot, toilet facilities, and water." In 1972 the Resource Conservation and Development Project, sponsored by the Delaware Department of Agriculture, spawned the Delaware Shoreline Committee. "We identified the fact that New Castle County had very little water-based recreation. We were looking for something convenient to New Castle County and specifically, at the Delaware River. A study made by the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies with New Castle County Parks and Recreation looked up and down the shoreline and highlighted the Governor Bacon Center. It has public land, deep water, and fast land and, it is historical. Of course, now it is also near the heron rookery on Pea Patch Island." It has taken 15 years to create a park there. In March of 1992, Leah was invited to the Governor Bacon Health Center to sign, as a witness, the document that creates Fort DuPont State Park.
First appointed by Governor Carvel, she served five other governors – Terry, Tribbet, Peterson, DuPont, and Castle. Delaware State Parks created or added to during her tenure include Cape Henlopen, Brandywine Creek, Killens Pond, White Clay Creek, Lums Pond, Trap Pond, and Bellevue.
"Every park – you could write a book about the procedure of getting into it and getting it. They haven't come easily – it's been a lot of planning and work. Killen's Pond was our top choice for Kent County. The governor at that time was a Republican and the State Auditor, whose homestead it was, was a Democrat. So we crossed our fingers and hoped to goodness that politics would not interfere with our getting the property.
"I remember there was a question raised whether Brandywine Hundred really needed Bellevue Park. However, it stood on its own merits and today it is second or third in use. It attracts people from the whole state and surrounding region. Depending on weather patterns, Bellevue sometimes surpasses Cape Henlopen in attendance.
"Delaware Seashore came to us under Governor Terry from the Department of Highways. Cape Henlopen came to us through the efforts of Senator Biden and it now has the top attendance of all our parks."
Leah has no plans to retire. "The need to buy land is still with us. We need to continue funding our open space program. I do hope to continue the work with the Clean Water Act. I want to continue working on the Delaware Estuary Program to help continue cleaning up the River. The reclamation of the Delaware River is one of the major success stories in the whole world, but we have to keep on it. Now we have to address the non-point sources of pollution. The silt and erosion problems are still with us. So many things radically affect our environment and parklands. We need to manage our parklands in the best environmental way we can. The wildlife was here before we humans came in. It does take thickets and hedgerows–shelter–for birdlife to thrive. Everybody loves to see the beautiful birds."
Leah has served as Trustee for the National Recreation and Parks Association for the past eight years. Her most recent associations are Northern Greenways, Coastal Heritage Greenways, State Parks Advisory Council, Trustee for the National Recreation and Parks Association, Director of the Fort Delaware Society, Wilmington Maritime Center, Chairperson of the Delaware River and Bay Shoreline Council, Delaware Nature Society Advocacy Committee, Delaware Estuary program and the Coastal Zone Regulations Committee. Leah has five children, two of whom live in this area. Delaware Audubon would like to thank Leah Roedel for her continuing dedication in working to provide opportunities for public recreation to the people of Delaware and her effort to preserve and protect open space. As Leah works toward her objectives, Delaware becomes a better place in which to live.