Cape Region embraces trail culture

January 28, 2022

The trail network around Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Cape Henlopen State Park offers an unprecedented chance to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. It's the trails that have turned the Cape Region into a mecca for bicyclists.

Once considered a nuisance by some, the trails have become a selling point for new homes and an economic driver attracting thousands of tourists. Many residents who live along a trail have embraced it, and a new trail art and bling culture has developed.

Over the past two decades, trails have been constructed and improved to provide a network linking Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes and Rehoboth. The Junction & Breakwater Trail and the Gordons Pond Trail have opened up a whole new world to people who love to bike and walk.

There are also connector trails along Kings Highway near Cape Henlopen High School and from Lewes to Cape Henlopen State Park.

And soon, the area will be connected to the center of the county via the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. Eight miles of the 17-mile trail have been constructed.

The paved trails we enjoy are not cheap, at about $1 million a mile. It's taken the efforts of some risk-taking champions who set the wheels in motion.

Leading the way was former Gov. Jack Markell, who seized on an opportunity presented by the passage of Walkable Bikeable Delaware in 2011 by the General Assembly to “develop multi-use paths for pedestrian and bicycle user travel within and between cities and towns in Delaware on independent right-of-way outside of the right-of-way of existing roadway.”

Markell took the lead thanks to the combination of the state’s improving budget picture and the Legislature’s passage of Walkable Bikeable Delaware to propose unprecedented new state investments in cycling and trails totaling $7 million.

And then, in October 2011, he followed up with the announcement of the First State Trails and Pathways Initiative, which is the blueprint for the state's trail network.

Almost overnight, it seems, Delaware and Sussex County went from having a few trails here and there to an actual network which is expanding yearly.

During a ceremony to open the first phase of the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail, former Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan said during Markell's two terms, the state went from 6 miles to 500 miles of trails.

Two state agencies, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Delaware Department of Transportation, spearhead projects, and for the most part, provide maintenance. For example, the Junction & Breakwater Trail is a DNREC project, while the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail is a mostly a DelDOT initiative.

But even before any of those, the Junction & Breakwater Trail between Lewes and Rehoboth set the standard for future trails. The first 3.6-mile section opened in December 2003, and it was completed in June 2007.

The openings were the culmination of years and years of negotiations and planning. A times, it seemed as if the trail, first mentioned in the 1970s, would never happen.

Thanks to land donations by the Lingo and Townsend families, the project got a big push.

Former DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara acted as mediator to push aside obstacles that had prevented construction of the Gordons Pond Trail, which had also been discussed since the 1970s. The trail links Cape Henlopen State Park to Rehoboth.

It officially opened with a lot of fanfare on June 23, 2014. It was a special day for the local Schroeder family, as the first trail marker was dedicated to their artist father, Howard.

Former state Rep. John Schroeder, who for decades was a champion of trails in the Cape Region, spearheaded an effort in 2001 to build part of an improved trail along the pond’s western perimeter, which eventually turned into the 3.2-mile Gordons Pond Trail 13 years later.

That trail section created what cyclists call the loop, a 16-mile pathway linking Lewes and Rehoboth. It will soon be possible to bike or walk from Georgetown to the Boardwalk.

Even though the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail is only about half finished, 1.2 million people have used it over the past three years.

I'm fortunate to live almost adjacent to the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail just outside Lewes. It's become a bicycle and pedestrian superhighway used from sunrise to sunset nearly every day of the year.

Our trails are special, and we need to keep in mind those forward-thinking champions who had the vision and made the dream become a reality.

Trail lengths:

• Cape Henlopen loop – 3.3 miles *

• Junction & Breakwater – 6 miles

• Lewes-to-Georgetown – 8 miles of a planned 17 miles

• Gordons Pond – 3.2 miles

* The park has 16 miles of paved and unpaved trails


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