In order to renew a lease for Great Marsh Park, the City of Lewes must develop a master plan detailing its plans to be a responsible steward of the property. The existing lease with the State of Delaware ends in 2025.
The Lewes Community Garden and the Lewes Unleashed Dog Park were added to the park in recent years, and while both are popular additions, Great Marsh Park Commissioner Barry Dunkin said Lewes must create a master plan if it wants to do anything beyond the two amenities.
Pennoni Associates’ Senior Landscape Architect Eric Wahl and Lewes Parks and Marina Administrator Janet Reeves led a public workshop June 7 to gain public input. Once an area of farming, Great Marsh Park is now designated open space, featuring four different areas with unique characteristics. Wahl said the best way to exemplify the park’s features is to remove invasive species, such as the Bradford pears and autumn olives that have thrived along the sun-soaked edges of the area. During a recent walkthrough of the park with parks and rec commission members, Wahl said he observed spots where invasive species were cleared and native species are now thriving. Members of the community garden supported his observation, claiming they have several native trees thriving thanks to invasive eradication.
Support was shown for keeping the community garden where it is. Wahl said there are no plans to remove the garden or dog park, and the city is seeking public input on how the park should develop over the years. Some people want to keep things as is, while others recommend adding minimal structures geared toward education and bird watching.
Bird watchers would like to see elevated bird stands that have been a staple in wetland areas, but they recognized the development required. They say minimal-impact stands could fit within the current ecosystems, noting the wondrous and diverse avian species that visit the marsh during migration or live there year- round. Environmental enthusiasts are advocating for educational signage and possibly a minimal gazebo to serve as a center for educational and environmental activities.
Also discussed was an idea for building accessible playgrounds for all children to enjoy, something Lewes does not have. While many in the audience agreed it was a worthwhile venture, there are concerns about parking and the development required. A playground could be built with minimal environmental impact, but the parking and accessible pathways are a concern. Most people said they are in favor of accessible playgrounds, but not in Great Marsh Park.
Resident Dave Ennis said he believes Lewes has a prime opportunity to support pollinators that will go a long way toward maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Referring to a book written by Douglas Tallamy, a University of Delaware professor of entomology and wildlife, Ennis said planting specific native species will help to provide food for the various creatures relying on Great Marsh Park that in turn pollinate the plants.
Tallamy’s most recent book, “Nature’s Best Hope,” talks about how to turn small pieces of land into thriving homes for various pollinators. Ennis said the loss of pollinators around the world is troublesome and there should be an effort to install pollinator gardens with native plant species in the park.