In a fitting tribute, several smiling bicyclists rode by during a ceremony to unveil a plaque on the Junction and Breakwater Trail honoring cycling advocate Larry Wonderlin. One of a handful of local cyclists who championed the trail in Cape Henlopen State Park more than a decade ago, Wonderlin was founder of Sussex Cyclists.
It was also fitting that the memorial plaque was placed on the 80-foot Holland Glade trestle bridge, the most picturesque point on the popular trail, offering a view of expansive wetlands, deep woods and the coastline. Wonderlin also had a passion for the environment and served as the first president of the Sussex County Sierra Club.
As storm clouds gathered, a crowd assembled on the bridge near the Wolfe Neck trailhead. Some looked skyward and thanked Wonderlin for holding off the rain. In attendance was his wife, Bernadine, and sons Dean and David accompanied by Sussex Cyclists, friends and Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation officials.
“He would have loved it,” Bernadine said following the informal ceremony. Over the years, she sometimes accompanied her husband on bike rides.
Wonderlin, a World War II veteran, was born in Camden, N.J., and worked for Public Service Electric and Gas Co. for 37 years in New Jersey before retiring in 1987 with his family to the Rehoboth Beach area. “He loved to sail and fish and wanted to live near the water,” Bernadine said.
Wonderlin passed away Jan. 8; he was 88 years old.
Wonderlin was an active and devoted cyclist, earning medals in Delaware and National Senior Olympic competitive bike races. He – along with area cyclists Mike Tyler and Jim Ippolito – was instrumental in envisioning a trail from Lewes to Rehoboth Beach along the former Penn Central rail line.
That same group later persuaded the Division of Parks and Recreation that a trail along the former rail corridor was possible and urged park officials to make the necessary land acquisitions to bring the Junction and Breakwater Trail to fruition.
“He was the driving force that got all this started,” said Pat Cooper, park administrator, who knew Wonderlin for more than two decades. “I never saw him when he wasn't on a bicycle.” It was Cooper and his staff that decided to honor Wonderlin.
Tyler said his friend never gave up when he was on a mission and had no qualms taking his thoughts and concerns to state officials. “But he did things with a smile,” Tyler said.
Tyler said Wonderlin was the first in the area to promote a long-distance bike tour. The CRABS Ride – Come Ride Around the Bays of Sussex – offered local cyclists a chance to get up close to the area's waterways.
Although he suffered a stroke, had heart surgery and was unable to ride a two-wheel bicycle, Wonderlin rode his three-wheel recumbent on the trail just before the first phase opened. “Work was still going on, but we knew he needed to be one of the first to ride the trail,” Tyler said. “He was in his glory and just couldn't believe it. It was one of his best rides.”
In a 1974 Bikeway Study to the Delaware General Assembly potential connections between Lewes and Rehoboth had been recommended, including the former rail corridor and through Cape Henlopen State Park. The first 3.6 miles of the Junction and Breakwater Trail opened Dec. 4, 2003; a second 2.4-mile phase opened June 4, 2007. As a continuation of the trail system, the Gordons Pond Trail in Cape Henlopen State Park opened just a week earlier on June 18.
Wonderlin’s cycling advocacy in the Cape Region led to the founding of Sussex Cyclists in 2002. The bicycling organization promotes and sponsors rides and advocates for safety for cyclists who ride in the resort area. It also advocates for cyclists on the county and statewide level.
As the club formed, Wonderlin served as president, but during the first official meeting, he nominated Tony Pezone to serve as president, a position he held for 10 years.