By Annie Ropeik
State and federal lawmakers unveiled the first signs marking the new First State National Historical Park Friday in Dover.
Delaware's senior senator, Tom Carper (D-Delaware), worked on getting Congressional approval for the park for more than a decade. He spoke to the adults who helped make that happen, plus a group of Holy Cross Elementary School first graders, beside interpretive signs now on The Green in Dover.
"Forty-nine states had national parks, and one state did not. What state still did not have a national park in 2001? What do you think?" he asked the students. Several answered, "Delaware!"
"Delaware did not have a national park," Carper confirmed. "And we went to work on it."
He and other planners devised a park to tell the story of how Delaware became a colony, and then the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution "in Dover, Delaware, right down the road here," Carper said.
The park comprises seven historic places around the state: the New Castle Green and old New Castle Courthouse, Old Swedes Church and Fort Christina in Wilmington, The Green and John Dickinson Plantation in Dover, and the Ryves Holt House in Lewes.
Park Ranger Ethan McKinley is the superintendent who will oversee those sites. He got a high five from Carper as the new signs were revealed Friday, and says the park is long overdue.
"Delaware's history is the nation's history. And so what we're telling is the nationally significant story -- we have a lot of wonderful partners that are telling different pieces of that story," McKinley says. "Our job is to weave all those pieces together and create a narrative that the people of America and the people of the world can understand."
The Department of Transportation is also set to install the National Park Service's trademark brown highway signs to help guide visitors to park sites around Delaware. National parks are the biggest draw for foreign tourists in the United States.