Sussex Land Trust: More access, countywide preservation

Conservation organization has a busy schedule with work on key projects slated this year
April 2, 2024

The Sussex County Land Trust was busy in 2023, and the coming year will see work progress on several projects, including Hudson Park and Hopkins Preserve in the Lewes area.

The land trust is working to fulfill two goals: more public access, where feasible, and preserving land throughout the county.

Since its founding in 2001, the land trust has partnered with Sussex County, State of Delaware and nonprofit conservation agencies to preserve more than 6,000 acres, including 2,000 acres of farmland, 2,000 acres of forest and 500 acres of wetlands, among other land.

“We have built really strong partnerships,” said Executive Director Mark Chura. “The county has really stepped up and hopefully the state follows them.”

“With public access, we are able to get more community support,” said outgoing Chair Heidi Gilmore. “And we are just starting.”

The land trust board hosted its annual meeting March 22 at Baywood Greens in Long Neck. Ring Lardner was voted in as the new chair. Board members Mike Nally and Ron Vickers are stepping down.

The board now comprises Gilmore; Casey Kenton, secretary; Blake Carey, treasurer; Russ McCabe (a member for 22 years); Jason King; Michael Dickinson; Judy Schwartz; Mackenzie Peet; Kelly Stevenson; Harold Carmen II; and Sussex County Council members John Rieley and Mark Schaefer.

Hopkins Preserve – The 52-acre parcel on Sweetbriar Road west of Lewes was purchased for $1.5 million by Sussex County in October 2022. Walt Hopkins, owner of the property, provided a major discount with the stipulation that the property be preserved.

Chura said work on the project is expected to start this fall and take about a year to complete. To support the construction, Sussex County has provided nearly $1 million and the state has contributed $400,000. Phase 1 will comprise construction of an entrance, parking lot and trails.

The project includes access and a trailhead to the adjacent Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail, a multi-use trail along Sweetbriar Road, a pond with a bridge as an overlook, pedestrian trails such as the Hopkins multi-use loop trail, reforestation, 11 acres of woodlands with a trail, wetlands foot bridge and a gathering space.

An access road will be shared with a new Masonic Lodge to be built on 7 acres that Hopkins donated.

Chura said the property is part of an open-space corridor along the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. “Large pieces of land along the trail have been preserved,” he said.

Hudson Park The 30-acre parcel at the intersection of Route 9 and Cool Spring Road west of Lewes was purchased for $1.5 million with funds from Sussex County, Open Space Council and Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation.

Located on the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail, the park is being developed as a trailhead. Also in the plans is a Can Do Playground for children of all levels of ability to be funded by six Rotary Clubs in the area.

Chura said most of the park’s acreage will remain in its natural state.

Phase 1 of the project, which was completed in 2023, includes a section of parking lot and a trail connection. Phases 2 and 3 in 2025 will include more paving, a bathroom facility, the playground and more restoration of the existing tree line on the property. Four acres with 2,000 saplings have already been planted.

Forest of Broadkill Preserve – The nearly 300-acre property along Shingle Point Road and Gravel Hill Road near Milton is the largest acquisition under a partnership with Sussex County in the land trust’s history. The property was purchased for $1.85 million in 2023 by Sussex County, is managed by the land trust, and the Division of Forestry holds the easement.

Chura said a large section of the property has a history of logging so several trails already exist. The land trust is working on a master plan for the preserve and has completed trail renovations. They are also working on a forestry management plan. The goal is to open the preserve to the public in fall 2024.

Other plans include a mountain bike trail, reforestation and an area to enhance quail habitat.

Chura said the property is a magnet for wildlife that has become more important because of development.

Nanticoke Crossing Park – The 41-acre parcel, purchased with a combination of funds from Sussex County, the U.S. Navy and Chesapeake Conservancy for $1.25 million in April 2021, is located along the Nanticoke River near the Woodland Ferry west of Seaford. Chura said the property, which is the site of a former mobile home park, was set to be developed with housing.

Chura said the master plan has been completed and is being reviewed by project partners with a focus on opening the park for public use. Plans for the park include a nine-hole disc golf course, restroom, parking, flexible open space, wetlands boardwalk trail, kayak launch, woodlands trail with a trailhead, perimeter trail, insect habitat, meadow, shoreline restoration of a lagoon on the parcel and perimeter buffer.

Ickford Park – The land trust manages two houses on the 59-acre Ickford Park with farmland, woods and wetlands northwest of Seaford. Design work on the Cannon-Masten House has been completed. Dating back to 1727, it's one of the oldest brick structures in the county. Chura said the land trust has submitted a plan to receive a historic tax credit from the State Historic Preservation Office. That plan is under review and once it's approved, Chura said, Phase 1 construction and restoration can begin.

The Williams-Litchford House is being restored to its original look as an early 1900s farmhouse. Chura said work should be completed this spring with an open house this summer. The project included relocating the house closer to the Cannon-Masten House.

Open Space Alliance – The land trust is in partnership with the Greater Lewes Foundation and the Open Space Alliance to raise $8.5 million to purchase the 89-acre Ard na Greine property situated in a developing area between New Road and Savannah Road and Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail just outside Lewes limits. The alliance is also spearheading an effort to raise $8 million to purchase the 30-acre Fourth Street Preserve in Lewes.

Other properties – Gills Neck Road Trail, as part of Junction & Breakwater Trail. The section was donated to the land trust by Jack Lingo Asset Management and will be managed by the trust.

The land trust worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to secure a conservation easement on 230 acres of wetlands along the Inland Bays thanks to a donation from Peninsula at Long Neck LLC.

In partnership with the Delaware Division of Parks, the land trust has renovated the 1880s Wolfe House at the Wolfe Neck Road trailhead for the Junction & Breakwater Trail. The house serves as the trust's headquarters and a program area.

In 2005, Sussex County purchased the 37-acre Cannon Tract on Pepper Creek near Dagsboro for $1.3 million. In 2015, the land trust started leasing the land for $1 a year to Delaware Botanic Gardens, which opened in 2016.

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