Hopkins Preserve is legacy for farming family

Sussex County Land Trust unveils plan to provide public access to property near Lewes
October 28, 2022

Story Location:
Sweetbriar Road
Route 9
Lewes, DE 19958
United States

The Sussex County Land Trust unveiled its master plan for Hopkins Preserve Oct. 22 on the property along Sweetbriar Road west of Lewes, and hundreds turned out to see it.

The plan – including trails and preserved natural areas for wildlife – is the most ambitious project the trust has taken on since it was formed in 2001.

Under a large tent, as the sun set behind the woods, a crowd of people gathered to get a look at the proposed plan for the property.

The event featured music from Homestead Bluegrass Band, food trucks and local craft beer, corn hole, face and pumpkin painting, a sunset bonfire and 50/50 raffle.

The 52-acre Hopkins Preserve, purchased for $1.5 million by Sussex County with open-space funding, is located on the west side of Sweetbriar Road adjacent to the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. Part of the nearly 1,000-acre Walter Hopkins family farm, the parcel was sold at a 50% discount.

While Sussex County officials purchased the land as part of a land conservation program, the land trust holds the conservation easement and will manage and operate the preserve. With some funding already in place, construction could begin as early as next spring.

Deep roots in Sussex soil

The Hopkins family has deep farming roots in eastern Sussex County dating back to the late 1600s.

Walt Hopkins said the field and woods on the property have provided him with wonderful experiences his entire life. “It's my 100-acre wood,” he said as he pointed to the western edge of the parcel. “I grew up in that woods. We want everyone to take time to enjoy the serenity of this property. It's time for you to enjoy what we have enjoyed for 75 years. This is for you, your children and their children to experience nature's manifold blessings.”

For many years, most of the parcel was reserved for cows as part of the large Hopkins dairy farm operation. 

The family got out of the business and sold 600 cows in 2021, then the remaining 400 cows in February 2022.

Walt said he has seen the property go through a transformation since it was returned to open space and farm production. He said the family's vision has always been to preserve the property as open space.

“You can hear how important this property is to Walt in his voice,” said Mark Chura, the land trust's executive director. “This will be a preserved area for wildlife. It's the family's vision and ours too.”

Plan has trails, natural areas

The plan, developed by Vernacular Landscape Architecture, includes a shared entrance off Sweetbriar Road with a new Masonic Lodge in the northeastern section of the property. Part of the land deal included a donation of 7 acres (not included in the preserve acreage) to the local Masonic Lodge, of which Walt is a member.

The property contains 11 acres of preserved forest dating back at least 100 years. 

Hopkins Hill is one of the most distinguishing features on the property, which includes a stand of trees dating back more than a century.

The plan also includes a seasonal wetland, meadow, 10 acres of reforestation, walking trails, a multipurpose ADA trail around the perimeter named Hopkins Loop Trail, access to the adjacent Tall Pines community, a parking lot and restroom.

The seasonal wetland will provide a critical habitat to amphibians and reptiles such as frogs, salamanders, toads and turtles.

A trailhead and access to the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail, which runs along the southern edge of the property, are included.

“This is a preserve and not a park. It will be sanctuary for wildlife,” Chura said, although providing public access is a major emphasis of the project.

Chura said money is already being raised to fund improvements on the property, including corporate donations from Schell Brothers, Dogfish Head and The Boston Beer Company, and a $250,000 gift in memory of Bayard and Violet Horn.

Chura said the first project in the three-to-five-year plan is to design and construct a parking area and access from Sweetbriar Road. He anticipates that construction could begin this spring.

“The county is proud to be part of this,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson. “County council and your taxpayer money purchased this property, but the Hopkins family deserves all the credit for making this happen.”

What's next for project?

Phase 1 – Site preparation; utility infrastructure; stormwater management; pond; vehicle access and parking; 12-foot crushed granite multiuse trail; 6-foot crushed granite accessible pedestrian trail.

Phase 2 – Foot and pond bridge and seeding of meadow, wetland, open lawn and 6-foot grass pedestrian trail.

Phase 3 – Site amenities including trail markers made of local materials, interpretive signage, benches, picnic tables, bike racks and a restroom.

Phase 4 – Planting of 50% of the total reforested area over a two-year period through volunteer tree-planting events.


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