It took awhile – several decades in fact – but an improved trail around Gordons Pond in Cape Henlopen State Park is now open for hikers and cyclists.
On the eve of Cape Henlopen State Park’s 50th anniversary, visitors, elected officials and local residents came out June 18 to celebrate the long-anticipated opening of the Gordons Pond Trail.
The 3.2-mile trail, part of Gov. Jack Markell’s Trails and Pathways Initiative, provides a key link in a 15-mile regional trail loop connecting Lewes and Rehoboth Beach.
The trail extends from the wildlife observation platform at Gordons Pond to the Walking Dune Trail near Herring Point in the park. It includes a one-half-mile-long boardwalk with two observation lookouts. The trail meanders through sand dunes, grass marshes and coastal forests offering vistas of the pond and two World War II towers to the east and broad marshes and Lewes, in the distance to the west.
The new trail replaces an existing primitive trail, which traveled through dunes and was open only part of the year.
Nearly a half mile of the new trail is an elevated boardwalk constructed with a decking material that light can penetrate, allowing plants to grow below and minimizing impact to the environment. In addition, 2.7 miles of trail is constructed of fine crushed stone. The trail is open to walkers, runners and bicyclists whenever the park is open.
“So many people made this happen,” said Markell, who rode the trail and loop with a group of 25 cyclists earlier in the day. “This trail will be paying dividends for years to come. It doesn't get any better than this.”
The Gordons Pond Trail connection was first noted in a 1974 bikeway report to the General Assembly. It was examined again in 1990. The final route was developed by a team of Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control resource specialists in 2010, and final trail design began in 2012. It was completed this month.
It was a special day for former Rep. John Schroeder, for decades a champion of trails in the Cape Region. Schroeder, who represented District 37 from 1988 to 2002, spearheaded an effort to build part of an improved trail on the western perimeter of the pond near Rehoboth Beach.
The 3,800-foot section – ending at an observation tower – was dedicated in 2001. An unimproved trail continued from that point to Herring Point. It's that section that Schroeder and others hoped would be the next phase, but it would take another 13 years before it happened.
With objections to the trail from nearby residents and concerns about the environmental impact on the dunes and marshes, the idea was shelved for nearly a decade.
Using the Trails and Pathways Initiative as a springboard, DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara formed a committee to find solutions to the objections standing in the way of the trail. “We addressed the long- standing concerns with innovative design, construction materials and the trail alignment,” he said.
O'Mara said a defined trail keeps people from wondering in fragile areas, such as the dunes.
“No trail on the East Coast rivals what we have right here,” O'Mara said. “The vistas are unparalleled.”
Markell cut a ribbon to officially dedicate the $3.5-million trail, and state park staff unveiled the first trail marker dedicated to Lewes artist Howard Schroeder. His sons John and Rob were on hand at the ceremony. Former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and former DNREC Secretary John Hughes were also among invited guests.