New aquatic resources center opens

 

Officials gathered to cut the ribbon Monday to unveil DNREC’s new Aquatic Resources Education Center in Smyrna. The center will offer information about the state’s marshlands. (Delaware State News/Ian Gronau)

SMYRNA — Delaware’s top federal office holders joined state officials and community representatives Monday to help introduce DNREC’s new Aquatic Resources Education Center in Smyrna.

The celebratory event, in line with Earth Week, showcased the facility, unveiled a new Bayshore Byway Interpretive Area on the center grounds, announced the extension of the Delaware Bayshore Byway and recognized the service projects and special dedications on the grounds.

The new Aquatic Resources Education Center will offer visitors a chance to learn about Delaware marshlands, according to DNREC officials. It features a 940-foot boardwalk over the marsh and aquatic education programs for schools, youth groups and adults. Since 1993, the aquatic center’s programs have been held in a converted farmhouse. With it’s new indoor classrooms and outdoor exhibits, the facility will enhance the center’s educational mission, officials noted.

The move to the new building also celebrates the Delaware Aquatic Resources Education program’s 25th anniversary. During the event, DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin extolled a few of its accomplishments.

“It has hosted many school field trips from all over the state and thousands of visitors each year,” he said. “As of this month, the count in the 20-year history of the Eco-Explorers Program is up to 50,000 fifth grade students who’ve come to the center.

“Another popular program, Take a Kid Fishing, has taught thousands of children and their families fundamental fishing skills and conservation concepts.”

From left, Joshua Nicholls and Corey O’Donnell, Eagle Scouts from Troop 283, received recognition on Monday for their work building seating, picnic benches and a rain garden at the new facility in Smyrna. (Delaware State News/Ian Gronau)

The center will act as a point of interest to tourists on the Delaware Bayshore Byway. The byway project, officially launched in 2015, was intended to run the length of the coastline from New Castle to the mouth of the bay.

The extension announced on Monday showed off the stretch from Kitts Hummock south of Dover to the City of Lewes.

The Delaware Bayshore Initiative has received recognition from the U.S. Department of the Interior as “one of the country’s most promising ways to reconnect America to the natural world.”

“The Bayshore initiative is one of the more exciting things happening in Delaware,” said Gov. John Carney. “I’ve increasingly learned to appreciate the natural heritage of our state. Each of us, as elected officials, promise to preserve that heritage for future generations — it’s in the oath we take. This initiative does just that and it creates an opportunity for so many Delawareans and people beyond our borders to come and visit and appreciate the beauty of our state.”

Funding for the new building and various site improvements was provided through state and a Federal Highway Administration Scenic Byway grant. Funding for the support programs the center offers, operation and maintenance was provided, in part, through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sport Fish Restoration Program.

“Over the past 25 years, the Aquatic Resources Education program got, on average about $300,000 per year through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons. “Although the contribution federally to this specific facility was relatively modest, about $65,000, the contribution to the byways project was about $840,000.

“If you think about the scope and reach of that project — to protect 200,000 acres from New Castle to Lewes — and what that means for our state; to preserve fragile and meaningful parts of our state’s natural resources and make them accessible to those who want to seek them out, it’s a great contribution.”

During the presentation several dedications were also made. Joshua Nicholls and Corey O’Donnell, Eagle Scouts from Troop 283, were recognized for their assistance at the new facility. Mr. O’Donnell helped build the custom benches and picnic tables in front of the building.

“My brother a few years back did a project over at the Mallard lodge — they built some benches and an outdoor grill,” he said. “That’s when I was introduced to the Aquatic Resources Education program. When I was looking to do a project, we reached back out and saw that they needed help.”

Mr. Nicholls helped install signage and build the center’s rain garden.

The Zakat Foundation Water Miners, winners of DNREC’s 2015 Youth Rain Barrel Painting Contest, donated a hand-painted rain barrel to the center as well.

Long-time Aquatic Resources Education Center members Bob Jones and Cathy Martin were recognized by having a trail and fishing pond on the site named after them. Mr. Jones, who died last year, co-coordinated the center’s programs for 15 years.

The site’s main loop trail was dedicated to his memory. Ms. Martin, a retired fisheries biologist, worked for the Division of Fish & Wildlife for more than 40 years. The center’s main fishing pond was named in her honor.

For location, contact and information on programs offered at the new center, click here.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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