Thousands of white poles and brown shelters stand out in two fields along Round Pole Bridge Road south of Milton, as The Nature Conservancy works to reforest 30 acres near the Edward H. McCabe Nature Preserve.
Natasha Whetzel, land steward, said another nine acres will be planted in the future, and nearly 12,000 trees will begin to reforest former farm fields.
“Every tree has some sort of shelter on it,” she said. “That’s to protect it from things such as deer browse, but it’s also for maintenance purposes. We’re not just going to plant these fields and walk away and hope for the best. We’re definitely going to be hands-on with maintaining it.”
The restoration project is designed to improve the quality of water moving into the Broadkill River by reducing agricultural runoff and groundwater transfer of nutrients into the river. The native tree species selected for the project will create new habitat for wildlife, including migratory birds.
Among the species planted are black cherry, black chokeberry, black oak, chestnut oak, gray dogwood, northern red oak, persimmon, pin oak, swamp white oak and white oak.
The funding for this project comes from an agreement between the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and Perdue Foods LLC related to wastewater issues that occurred at Perdue's Georgetown plant in 2015.
The 143-acre McCabe Preserve, solely owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, is situated east of Milton on lands along the Broadkill River.
The trees were hand planted by Conservation Services Inc. of Waynesboro, Va. The group used hoedads to plant each tree, but only placed white shelters around 2,000. Whetzel hired GreenTop Lawn & Landscaping to put shelters around the remaining seedlings.
Owner Shawn Cortijo and three other employees placed 1,600 shelters a day over four days to ensure all seedlings are protected. He said there is a lot of interest in the project.
“A lot of people have stopped to see what’s going on,” he said. “I think it’s just cool what they’re doing.”
The final nine acres will be planted by volunteers throughout March.
Round Pole Bridge Road is a winding rural road south of Milton. In addition to the 143 acres owned by The Nature Conservancy, 770 acres are under protection by the state’s Farmland Preservation Program.
The McCabe Preserve is one of the conservancy's two public preserves in Delaware. Visitors are welcome to walk the three miles of trails and watch the progress of the reforestation project. Eventually, additional trails may be added to these 39 acres of reforested lands. For more information including directions and a trail map, go to www.nature.org/mccabe.