Hundreds gathered June 3 to celebrate the official opening of Phase 2 of the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. More importantly, they gathered to honor the memory of Thomas Draper, for whom a 3.2-mile section of the trail is named.
With family members, friends, cyclists and officials looking on, a kiosk in Draper's honor was unveiled at a rest station adjacent to the Lewes Senior Center near the Nassau bridge. In addition, even though thousands of cyclists and walkers have been using the trail for weeks, a ceremonial ribbon was cut to open it.
Draper, owner of WBOC and an area broadcast pioneer and avid cyclist, passed away Sept. 8, 2017, the day after he was hit by a pickup truck while cycling along Slaughter Beach Road near Milford.
Son Hank Draper said it warmed his heart for their family to be included. “He loved to be outdoors, to be active and ride his bike. This celebrates all of that,” he said. “We are naming this trail after one of the best men I have ever known,” said Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes. He pointed to cyclists wearing T-shirts with the words Trails Unite. “We live in a community that celebrates coming together,” he said.
Lopez pointed out that it was former Rep. Harvey Kenton of Milford who suggested the trail be named in honor of Draper. Kenton said he had a hard time finding words to express his feelings. “He was a great friend and a friend of Sussex County,” he said, adding he was going home to get his bicycle. “My own life is richer having known him,” said Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Lewes. “Forever let us remember this iconic gentleman who gave this area prosperity and pride.”
“This is a legacy to his love of the outdoors, cycling and the people of Sussex County,” said Sussex County Councilman I.G. Burton, R-Lewes. Burton, who lives near the trail, said he saw the excitement about the trail firsthand. “It has connected communities and families. It's a safe place for people to enjoy Sussex County,” he said.
Jeff Niezgoda, DelDOT assistant director, said original plans for Phase 2 of the trail from Savannah Road to Minos Conaway Road were altered when additional funding became available. Phase 2 was extended from Minos Conaway Road to Log Cabin Road, for a total of nearly 5 miles.
He said by mid-summer in 2020, work on the trail in Georgetown will begin with plans to extend it to Park Avenue east of the town. “We will continue to close the gap and have it done in six or seven years,” he said. Eventually, the trail will be 17 miles long.
Today, Niezgoda said, cyclists can get an ice cream cone at Hopkins Farm Creamery and ride all the way to Rehoboth Beach on a low-stress network. The Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail connects to the Junction-Breakwater Trail, which links Lewes and Rehoboth Beach.
Lewes Mayor Ted Becker said he is looking forward to the day when he and Georgetown Mayor Bill West can meet at the mid-point of the trail. “We are all looking forward to completion,” he said.
The first mile, Phase 1 of the trail from Gills Neck Road to Savannah Road, opened in October 2016. The project included a trailhead at the Lewes Public Library.