The plan for a new beach bonfire business was extinguished by Lewes Mayor and City Council Aug. 9, as officials opted to maintain the status quo until a two-year trial with Quest Adventures expires at the end of 2022.
“Wouldn’t it make sense for us to see how that pans out before we venture forth and take on something else?” asked Councilwoman Carolyn Jones. “Then, at the end of two years, we can have a public hearing and make a decision on whether or not we should move forward. I don’t see at this time that we should be taking on anything else.”
In July, local resident Cassidy Gallo approached the city about her idea for No Shoes Beach Bonfires, with a plan to operate only at Beach 1 and Beach 2. Her services would’ve included facilitating bonfire permits with city staff, setting up and breaking down the bonfires, and removing bonfire debris and any leftover trash.
The city’s parks and recreation commission was split on the idea, voting 6-4 to recommend city council approve the proposal. Among the dissenters was beach commissioner Kay Carnahan, who objected because residents she spoke with were overwhelmingly against further commercialization of the beach.
“I’ve had no time to create a master plan for Beaches 1 and 2,” said Carnahan, who joined the commission earlier this year after the main beaches were added to the city’s list of parks. “I would like a chance to come up with a master plan, working with citizens and seeing what they want, and what they feel is appropriate.”
The city also received a petition from the Lewes Beach Civic Association opposing the proposal. In a letter signed by 63 people, the association asked mayor and city council to forgo consideration of Gallo’s business and any other commercial enterprise on the beach until the city develops a plan to address commercialization of Lewes Beach.
Councilman Khalil Saliba agreed with the civic association’s petition. He said it makes sense for the city to develop a plan, then possibly offer a request for proposals for one vendor to provide exclusive services.
“It allows us to specify what services we think should be provided, so we can tailor it, and it allows for people’s input,” he said.
According to the city’s current agreement, Quest Adventures is a non-exclusive vendor of recreational beach equipment and activities such as kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, chairs, umbrellas and bonfires.
Quest owner Matt Carter was granted a one-year trial to operate a beach shack at Roosevelt Inlet in 2020. Council extended the agreement until 2022 prior to this summer.
In addition to the shack, Carter delivers beach equipment and sets up bonfires throughout Lewes Beach, including Beach 1 and Beach 2.
At the Aug. 9 meeting, Carter said bonfires became very popular during the summer of COVID in 2020.
“People weren’t running around leaving town and going to other places; they were enjoying what they did here,” he said.
Looking at his numbers, Carter estimates 40 percent of bonfire customers are locals and second-home owners, 40 percent are visitors and 20 percent are local businesses, churches, clubs and youth groups.
Most bonfires run from 7 to 10 p.m., with setup starting between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. He and his staff do not move people in order to set up, and will keep the equipment close to the dune until space is available. Quest ignites and extinguishes most fires, and staff is on-site most of the time to replenish the fire and ensure safety.
City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said the city had 146 bonfire requests in July. The city has issued more than 360 bonfire permits this summer. Carter estimates he did about 60 bonfires in July.
If the status quo is maintained, Carter will be permitted to operate his business through the end of next summer. The agreement will then be reevaluated.
“We have something in place that seems to be working,” said Deputy Mayor Andrew Williams. “It’s still new, and I don’t think we need to be introducing new vendors until we see that this is not working. Right now it’s meeting a need.”