The Sussex County Land Trust is taking steps to provide recreational access to some of its preserved properties.
Over its 20-year history, the land trust has partnered with Sussex County Council, the State of Delaware and several nonprofit conservation agencies on 18 projects to preserve nearly 6,000 acres, including 2,000 acres of farmland, 2,000 acres of forest and 500 acres of wetlands.
Over the past few years, the land trust has taken on three projects: Stephen P. Hudson Park at the Route 9-Cool Spring Road intersection, west of Lewes; the Ickford property and historic Cannon-Maston House along Atlanta Road near Seaford; and Nanticoke Crossing Park along the Nanticoke River, west of Seaford near Woodland.
The land trust has a new chairperson, attorney Heidi Gilmore, and new members have been added to the executive committee.
“Being a park-like service takes a lot of energy and people to do it,” Gilmore said. “We are changing our mindset from a passive organization to a more active group as a resource to the county.”
Projects are underway
Hudson Park – A section of Hudson Park will contain a trailhead for the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. The next phase of the project – from Cool Spring Road to Fisher Road – is scheduled to begin in May. The land trust is in the process of finalizing the design for the trailhead/parking area with construction scheduled late this year or during the first quarter of 2023. When central sewer service is available, plans include construction of restrooms.
Also on the drawing board is a pedestrian bridge over Route 9, similar to the one over Route 24 at the Baywood Greens golf course in Long Neck, to provide a safe crossing of the roadway.
Nanticoke Crossing Park – The land trust is completing a master plan for the 41-acre Nanticoke Crossing Park tract. The parcel was purchased through partnerships with Sussex County and Chesapeake Conservancy.
“This parcel has great potential,” said Casey Kenton, outgoing chair. “It's a great place to access the Nanticoke River and a great place for events.”
Kenton said the land trust sees development of the tract as a sister project to the City of Seaford's Oyster House Park project along the Nanticoke River. The city's project includes a completed extension of the Nanticoke Riverwalk and future phases to include construction of two oyster houses at the site where working oyster houses once stood.
Various organizations have collaborated to preserve more than 19,300 acres along the Nanticoke River.
Ickford property – The Ickford tract near Seaford contains 59 acres and the 1727 Cannon-Maston House, one of the oldest surviving brick homes in the county. The land trust has plans to restore the house and eventually turn the property into a public recreation area.
Working with other partners and organizations, Gilmore said, the land trust is helping to create a network of parks in conjunction with the Nanticoke Heritage Byway in western Sussex County.
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 and Breakwater Trail. The house serves as the trust's headquarters and a program area.
Partnerships are key
Kenton said partnerships are the key to the land trust's success. Since the trust was formed in 2001, Sussex County officials have contributed $6.7 million, and land trust volunteers have raised more than $4 million in private donations. This year's county budget includes a record $5.6 million for open-space acquisition.
Local builder and developer Schell Brothers has committed to a donation that could exceed $1 million. The company recently made a $250,000 donation and will donate another $1,000 for every home settlement in 2022 and 2023.
Kenton said getting more developers to participate in the program is a priority.
“We think every major developer has the responsibility to help the land trust preserve land,” he said. “It's in their best interest that we keep protecting land in the county.”
“We also want to provide more opportunities for people to become donors,” Gilmore added.
She said an ideal partnership has been forged between the land trust and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. The company has sponsored several events to benefit the trust, including an April 2 bike tour.
“We can't move the needle without strong partnerships,” Kenton said.
Gilmore said looking ahead, preserving land in the southwest and southeast sections of the county is a priority.
The land trust board
Board members include the following:
Jason King of Lewes is national accounts manager for Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and is active in the company's Beer and Benevolence program. King, who grew up in Milford, is an avid outdoorsman.
Mike Dickinson of Milton joined SoDel Concepts in 2005 and is now vice president of operations, overseeing 10 restaurants with four others in the planning stages.
Tracy Adams of Georgetown is a partner in her family businesses, Melvin L. Joseph Construction, M.L. Joseph Sand & Gravel, Stockley Materials and Citation Rentals.
Ring Lardner of Milford has 18 years of experience in project engineering and construction administration for residential and commercial development. The Delaware Army National Guard veteran is head of the Milford municipal engineering department at Davis, Bowen & Friedel.
Blake Carey is a Sussex County attorney and a member of a longtime county farming family.
Russ McCabe of Milton is a retired State of Delaware archivist and a local historian with deep Sussex County roots.
Heidi Gilmore of Millsboro has been a real estate attorney since 2000 and works for the Baird Mandalas Brockstedt LLC firm in the Georgetown office. She volunteers for several nonprofit agencies in Sussex County.
Mike Nally of Ocean View, a former U.S. Army Ranger, is president and CEO of Nally Ventures, a real estate and construction consulting firm in Ocean View. He served as Sussex County Habitat for Humanity board president from 2015 to 2020 and has also served on several other nonprofit boards.
Casey Kenton of Rehoboth Beach has spent his career in commercial real estate and works for Investors Realty Inc. in Dover.
Ron Vickers of Millsboro has retired from the Delaware Division of Parks, where he worked in natural lands acquisition and open-space conservation.
Sussex County Councilmen Mark Schaeffer and John Rieley are also board members.
Mark Chura of Lewes is executive director of the land trust. He retired from leadership roles in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and Division of Parks, and is the former director of Delaware Greenways.