Guest Post by Collin O’Mara, Secretary, DE Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
For generations, starting with the stewardship of the Lenape and Nanticoke Peoples through the outdoor-lovers of today, people living on the Delmarva Peninsula have recognized the significance of our Delaware Bayshore. Although many of us just think of this remarkable area as a scenic part our state along Route 9 (or 1), around the world it is recognized as globally significant wildlife habitat—from National Audubon Society and Nature Conservancy to the Global Ramsar Treaty and Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network—due to the expansive coastal marshes, shoreline, farmland land and upland forests that provide critical habitat to more than 400 species of birds and incredibly diverse wildlife.
This is a region of incredible importance and every generation has done their part:
- 100 years ago: Governor Pennewell appointed the first Fish and Game Commissioners, who in turn named the first Game Warden to protect these areas
- 75 years ago: Interior Secretary Harold Ickes designated Bombay Hook as Delaware’s first National Wildlife Refuge
- 50 years ago: Local conservationists banded together to form Delaware Wild Lands to conserve critical wildlife habitat and they’ve been joined in these efforts by The Nature Conservancy, Delaware Nature Society, the Conservation Fund, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Delmarva Ornithological Society, etc.
- 40 years ago: Governor Peterson proposed and signed into law the Coastal Zone Act to ensure that the Bayshore would remain free of heavy industry; Interior Secretary Stuart Udall designated our second Federal Refuge.
- 20 years ago: Governor Castle and the Governor Carper protected tens of thousands of acres through the establishment and investment in the Open Space and Farmland Preservation Program
- And today, under the leadership of Governor Markell and our Congressional Delegation—and with the strong support of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, as leader of the President’s America’s Great Outdoors Initaitive, and numerous partners—we will keep this covenant with past generations and do our part by launching the Delaware Bayshore Initiative.
Thanks to numerous partners, more than 60% of the land in the Delaware Bayshore is fully protected as National Wildlife Refuges, State Wildlife Areas, State Parks, Farmland Preservation, Cultural Heritage Sites, or private conservation lands. These areas surround and help connect historic local communities like Del City, Port Penn, Leipsic, Little Creek, Bowers Beach, Slaughter Beach, Milford and Lewes.
The Delaware Bayshore Initiative is built upon a simple premise: that protecting and investing in our natural resources is one of the best ways to grow our economy.
Our Bayshore offers unrivalled recreational opportunities for hunters and anglers, boaters and kayakers, hikers and bikers, casual wildlife watchers, and families seeking outdoor opportunities to recreate and learn about nature—we want to build upon these strengths.
We also host thousands of birders and biologists from around the world who come to the Bayshore to witness the annual spring spectacle of more than a half million shorebirds, like Red Knots, taking a rest stop to dine on the eggs of horseshoe crabs.
Yet despite all of these amazing outdoor experiences, millions of visitors race straight down Highway 1 every year directly to our pristine beaches without any idea of the treasurers that they’re passing by.
To help ensure that our Delaware Bayshore reaches it potential as a world-class conservation and low-impact recreational destination, the Initiative has three key areas of focus:
- Protecting and connecting existing wildlife areas;
- Keeping private farmlands in production;
- Continuing and expanding habitat restoration efforts;
2. Low-Impact Recreation
- Enhancing public access to wild areas;
- Providing recreational amenities to promote hunting, fishing, birding, hiking, biking, kayaking, and canoeing; and
- Increasing wildlife-viewing opportunities enhanced with interpretation and educational opportunities for youth.
3. Stronger Communities
- Strengthening historic Bayshore communities;
- Encouraging ecotourism and new retail/hospitality business opportunities;
- Supporting local volunteerism and resource stewardship, and
- Promoting the Bayshore regionally, nationally, and internationally.
In each of these areas, there are a lot of activities already underway. We have a long list of current projects , but suffice to say we are maximizing the impact of State Wildlife Grants and other critical federal and state resources to conserve critical lands, restore wildlife habitat, and improve waterway access.
Just in the last year, we have worked with our partners to protect nearly 500 additional acres of land—and we’re working with our partners to protect thousands more, we’ve restored more than 600 acres of forest, wetlands, meadows and shrublands on public and private lands, and we’ve worked to control Phragmites on nearly 6,000 acres of tidal marsh on public/private lands.
We are also working with Delaware Greenways and DelDOT to complete the designation of the Route 9 corridor as a Scenic Byway.
This is not to suggest that this Initiative will not be without challenges:
- there are always funding challenges;
- we need to support our commercial watermen and their critical industry
- we need to continue to work with many local beach communities that facing challenges from erosion, subsidence, intense storms, and inland flooding, as we identify sustainable strategies for protection.
- and we need to provide local entrepreneurs with the confidence to invest in new business ventures related to the Bayshore.
Overall, we are confident that this Initiative will be a great success and we hope you will join us.
If the legacy of the past half century is land protection—let our chapter be focused on restoring wildlife habitat, strengthening local economies, and connecting people with America’s (and Delaware’s) Great Outdoors.
Let’s work with local communities and small businesses to enhance the Bayshore experience and strengthen local economies. Let’s marshal our resources once again to ensure that the Bayshore remains forever wild for current and future generation—as an economic driver for the state—and as a true national conservation area. The Delaware Bayshore Initiative is a concept whose time has come. It’s time is now.
So come, explore the Bayshore and discover Delaware’s wild side!