Sussex County officials have spent more than $5 million over the past few months to purchase more than 150 acres on four parcels of land to be preserved and not developed. The parcels are mostly farmland with some forests.
On June 21, county officials announced a series of open-space purchases that will protect the parcels in eastern and central Sussex, where the landscape is under increased pressure from residential development. The purchases include a portion of the prominent Lewes-area Hopkins Farm. Funding comes from county reserves, specifically savings realized through the county’s portion of Delaware’s realty transfer tax.
Making the announcement, County Administrator Todd Lawson said, “With this amount of land, it's a landmark day. The public has asked for this, and to be able to deliver at this level is exciting.”
The 51-acre Hopkins Preserve, purchased for $1.5 million, is located on the west side of Sweetbriar Road adjacent to the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail near Lewes. Part of the extensive Walter Hopkins family farm, the parcel was sold at a 50% discount, Lawson said.
The county administrator said to acquire a parcel under development pressure in eastern Sussex County is a coup. “That the owner is willing to preserve this land should be heralded,” he said.
Lawson said it's the Hopkins’ desire to see the land kept as open space with public access for a possible trailhead, picnic area and walking paths.
The Sussex County Land Trust will manage the property and work with the county to develop a plan for its use.
“We are excited to implement the Hopkins family's vision they had when they first came to us,” said Mark Chura, land trust executive director.
He said the land trust's Hudson Park, at the intersection of Cool Spring Road and Route 9, can be tied into the Hopkins property using the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. The land trust is in the process of building a trailhead at the Hudson Park site.
Chura said money is already being raised to fund improvements on the property, including corporate donations from Schell Brothers, Dogfish Head and The Boston Beer Company, and a $250,000 gift in memory of Bayard and Violet Horn. “These donations jump-start us tremendously,” he said.
Hopkins said working with the county and the land trust to preserve his family farm was as much about giving something back to the community as it was to ensure agriculture’s legacy.
“Preserving this land and opening it to the public is the right thing to do,” he said. “Extending the adjacent bike trail around the property; forging extensive walking trails through the meadows and woodland; enhancing the wildlife habitat; encouraging the planting and growth of local flora – this is what I see for the property, and I look forward to the county and the land trust working together to bring that dream to fruition. This is truly a wonderful opportunity for the residents and visitors of Sussex County to enjoy for generations to come.”
Three other parcels
Three other parcels have also been purchased by the county.
The second Dorman Farm tract is 13 acres of farmland along Route 24 and is adjacent to another Dorman parcel purchased by the county for a total of 30 acres of preserved land next to Herring Creek and Sarah Run. The purchase price was $400,000.
Jones Farm tract is 47 acres along Conaway Road west of Millsboro and is surrounded by the state's Midlands Wildlife Area. The purchase price was $650,000.
Dawson Brothers tract is 40 acres on the south side of Route 24 and Gull Point Road near Indian River and the Nanticoke Indian Center between Long Neck and Millsboro. The purchase price was $2.5 million.
Lawson said the county will continue to purchase land to be preserved. The 2023 fiscal year budget contains $6 million for land preservation and $1.4 million for farmland preservation.
“We hear all the time from the public that we should preserve land instead of growing houses,” said Council President Mike Vincent.
“This latest round shows the county council’s commitment to land preservation, in terms of the significance of the dollars spent to the number of acres preserved,” Lawson said.
Other recent purchases by county
Over the past two years, the county has purchased or worked with partners to preserve the following: Piney Neck property, 9 acres; Jones Farm, Kings Highway, Lewes, 37 acres, with City of Lewes and Lewes Board of Public Works; Dorman Farm tract one, 17 acres along Route 24; and Absher property, now known as Nanticoke Crossing near the Woodland Ferry on the Nanticoke River, 41 acres with several partners including the land trust, Chesapeake Conservancy, Delaware Open Space Program, Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, and Mount Cuba Center.
Since fiscal year 2003, the county has spent $13.5 million to preserve more than 5,200 acres.