Lewes land preservation campaign gets underway

City commits $500,000 and anonymous gift of $1 million kick start $18 million fund drive
May 26, 2023

A line has been drawn in the sand. The Open Space Alliance has 18 months to raise $18 million to purchase and preserve two significant properties in Lewes – a 30-acre tract along Fourth Street and an 89-acre tract known as the Ard na Gréine property between Savannah Road and New Road just outside Lewes.

The alliance – a partnership between the Greater Lewes Foundation and Sussex County Land Trust – held its first community meeting May 24 at Lewes library. It's one of several meetings planned to meet with residents in their homes and at community centers.

Greater Lewes Foundation campaign manager Pam Costanzi called the meetings “friend-to-friend fundraising.”

Large donations start drive

The fund drive got a big boost with a $500,000 commitment from the City of Lewes, an anonymous $1 million donation and a $50,000 matching donation.

“Open space in Lewes is disappearing every day,” said Jim Ford, former mayor and current alliance chair. “It doesn't have to be this way. This private-public campaign is one of the largest ever in Lewes. We need $18 million by the end of 2024.”

About half of the total will be raised through public donations, with the other half coming from businesses, state and county government, foundations, preservation and environmental organizations.

“Lewes has the most educated and affluent people in Delaware. There are a lot of people who are passionate about the environment they live in. It's why many people have moved here. We can do this because we are Lewes,” Costanzi said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

She said while the population of Lewes has remained about 3,500 residents, the outskirts now include some 11,000 residents in close proximity to the city.

Ford said the alliance will begin hosting meetings in every area in and around Lewes. “We will challenge the residents of every community to help get this done,” he said.

He stressed that private donations help leverage donations from foundations and organizations.

Ford will host a meeting at his home on Savannah Road.

Passive recreation

Mark Chura, land trust executive director, said the two property owners are selling the land at a discount because they believe strongly in keeping the land preserved as open space.

He said public access will be available to the tracts to provide passive recreation, including trails. “These are not parks but preserves, and everything we do will only enhance the environmental features,” he said.

The Ard na Gréine property is adjacent to a section of the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail.

Ford said the properties present an excellent opportunity for educational programming.

Under the current plan, the City of Lewes will own the Fourth Street property, and the land trust will have a conservation easement in place to keep the land permanently protected.

The Ard na Gréine property will be owned by the land trust and hold a conservation easement. Chura said the land trust will solicit other preservation groups to participate in the project.

Sussex County Councilman Mark Schaeffer of Lewes attended the meeting and said the council is very committed to preserving open space. “I can foresee a large commitment from the county for the 80-acre property. I look forward to leading that charge,” he said.

The county can only provide funds for unincorporated areas. The county's proposed fiscal year 2024 budget includes $7.4 million for open space.

About the campaign

Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to Greater Lewes Foundation, PO Box 110, Lewes, DE 19958.

Donations can be made to specific properties.

Pledges are accepted.

For more information, go to or call 302-644-0107.



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