Big plans for Little Creek: State and county investments are helping to stir town growth

LITTLE CREEK — The small town of Little Creek — population around 225 — seems almost ghostly on most summer afternoons, especially in much of its shuttered commercial property on its south end.

By outside appearances, there doesn’t seem to be much growth happening — except with invasive Phragmites, maybe.

If recent investments by the state and county governments are any indication though, that may be about to change.

The town’s most recently approved project was a dog park scheduled to be built near the Little Creek Post Office at the intersection of Main Street and Port Mahon Road.

Kent County Levy Court agreed to provide $35,000 in funding for the project in mid-June.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Enviormental Control (DNREC) completed the first phase of a multi-project development of the area in 2015 with the $1.01 million state-funded dredging of the Little River. It was dredged last in 1982. It is now at an estimated depth of five feet at average low tide and 40-feet wide in the river portions.

Little Creek mayor Glenn Gauvry stands in front of the town’s post office. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DNREC plans to construct a boat ramp and fishing pier.

A Little Creek Bayshore Visitor Center is in the planning stages as well to be built in the Little Creek Wildlife Area.

Although DNREC failed to provide precise cost figures, completion dates and status updates on the boat ramp, fishing pier and Little Creek Bayshore Visitor Center, their 2016-2019 Capital Plan states that $250,000 in funding was requested for the boat ramp to leverage $750,000 in Federal Sport Fishing Restoration funds and about $1 million was requested over two years for the visitor center (packaged with a few other projects).

The plan also included a request for funds to build an additional one-mile trail and a 0.5 mile wildlife viewing loop with connection to the town.

According to Little Creek Mayor Glenn Gauvry, DNREC has already started some work on the boat ramp, and he expects that it’ll be completed sometime next spring.

Much of the state’s interest in the small town revolves around its designation as a “discovery zone” on the Delaware Bayshore Byway. The Delaware Bayshore Initiative was launched in 2012 with aims to spur conservation, recreation and eco-tourism in state’s coastal communities.

Mayor Gauvry believes that new investments, coupled with the guidance offered by the town’s recently released comprehensive management plan, has the makings of a perfect storm that will breathe new life into the area.

Dog park

As part of the legwork for the new comprehensive management plan, the mayor and town council circulated a survey asking residents what their priorities were.

“One of the things the community said they’d like to see done is finding a use for that park that the town owns,” said Mayor Gauvry. “Right now it’s manicured, but it doesn’t get used very often. We had a volunteer firefighter pose the idea of a public dog park, and we thought that it might fit really nicely there.”

Homes on Main street in Little Creek. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

After approaching the Kent County Levy Court about the possibility of funding it, they recommended that he draw up a detailed plan. The mayor and council examined existing dog parks — using Tidbury and Milford’s dog park as templates — and pitched a $35,000 that included a concrete sidewalk and entry pad, fencing, benches, trash cans and existing fence renovations around the town’s parkland.

The Little Creek volunteer fire department has offered to pay for and install two water pumps for patrons to use and the town said they’d provide signage.

In addition, the town would plan to take responsibility for maintaining the park once it’s complete. The proposal was approved.

“We have the money now to put in a brand new park and we’ve done our research on the neighboring parks to make sure that we use what has been working and exclude what isn’t working from our design,” said Mayor Gauvry. “With what we have planned, there’s really no reason why it can’t be one of the nicest dog parks in the county and maybe even the state.”

Mayor Gauvry recently set up a two-person park commission who will help manage the park and guide its programming.

“We’re going to be looking into county-wide and community events like dog training and immunization workshops — there are a lot of things that can be done with that kind of platform,” he said. “The commission will also be looking at ways to get Pet Smart, Petco, Concord Pet Foods & Supplies and local vets involved in events too.”

After reviewing bids and surveys, he anticipates having construction begin in the coming weeks with the intention to finish construction by summer’s end.

Boat launch and fishing pier

Now dredged to a navigable depth and width, a boat launch on the Little River near the bridge south of town is feasible. DNREC’s 2016-2019 Capital Plan noted that the ramp will “boost recreational opportunities and tourism by providing water access to the Little River for boats, kayaks and canoes.”

Shortly after the dredging was complete, Little Creek Fire Chief saw an added opportunity for the town’s fire department with the prospect of the launch. In 2013, the fire station received a port security grant to purchase a new 32 ft. fire rescue boat to respond to emergencies in the Delaware Bay.

Little Creek mayor Glenn Gauvry holds a rendering of the new proposed dog park next to the post office in Little Creek. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“The reason we got the grant was that there was no fire rescue capabilities for all the shipping traffic that goes up and down the coast,” said Chief Michael Scott Bundek. “Several fire companies received boats through that program. Since it’s just a bit too long to be trailered regularly, it sits docked at the end of Port Mahon, but with the new boat launch and pier, it could be docked much closer to town.”

Chief Bundek said that the road leading to the large boat launch at the end of Port Mahon has been neglected for many years and it prone to flooding, which can make rapid response difficult. Also, the creek is more insulated from the high winds Port Mahon often sees opening directly onto the bay.

“We talked to Rep. William Caron, Sen. Colin Bonini and the town about the feasibility of utilizing a dock once the creek was dredged out,” he added. “The town’s stake in it is that they want to revitalize the little economic area over there, and it benefits us because we’ll have a better, safer harbor to put our boat in.”

The fire station also has a 22-foot rescue boat and an 18-foot pond boat, both of which they keep trailers at the fire station. Chief Bundek said that in an average year, there are about 25 water/fire emergencies in the Delaware Bay.

“Our response area is all the way from Collins Beach down to the Murderkill River,” he said. “We’ll respond to people taking on water, boat accidents, fires on board, medical emergencies out on the water or even disabled boats if there are poor weather conditions and it becomes and emergency.”

The mayor speculates that a larger fishing pier with ample parking and a boat launch will draw even more recreational fishers to the area — acting as an attraction around which commercial activity can be built.

“Looking at the plans, I can say that it’s quite a ramp and fishing pier — they decided if they were going to do this, they were going to do it right,” he said. “I believe it’s set to have around 20 to 30 parking spots for cars and trailers.”

Comp. management plan

Part of what’s fueling the town leadership’s hopes for its revitalization is the extensive comprehensive management plan it release several months ago.

“When we were tasked to update our plan, it’s required every 10 years, we really wanted to reinvent ourselves rather than just revising it,” Mayor Gauvry said. “We were fortunate enough to get a ton of buy-in from other organizations and we really put together an amazing plan. With all the help we had I’d feel confident holding it up against most cities in this entire state — it’s that good.”

The town received approximately $20,000 grant from Delaware Coastal Programs to examine shoreline resiliency and sea level issues, the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization gave them an extra $10,000 to look into traffic and infrastructure issues, AECOM in Newark lent guidance, coordination and engineering analysis and even the University of Delaware (UD) was involved.

“UD gave us a grant in the form of having an analysis of the town through their Working Waterfronts Initiative,” said the mayor. “They did a community-wide representative survey trying to find out where residents wanted to go from a development perspective and what changes could be made to the waterfront that would most positively affect the community.”

According to Ed Lewandowski, the UD development specialist who leads the project, the Sustainable Coastal Communities Initiative launched its Working Waterfronts Initiative in 2012 to develop sustainability strategies for preserving and maintaining the state’s traditional maritime communities.

After a pilot study was in Bowers Beach in 2013, the initiative was brought to the town of Leipsic and Little Creek. Mr. Lewandowski noted that the representative sample of residents surveyed for their study seemed to understand that growth of the town’s commercial activity and attractions was necessary.

“It was clear that Little Creek residents identify themselves with the waterfront — their vision is to maintain themselves as this historic small town that’s going to continue to hold that character, but they also seemed to understand the need for some modest growth and some redevelopment,” he said.

“Of course, they want the growth to blend and be consistent with their landscape. They’re not looking to put up high-rises or condos on the waterfront. They have a quaint fishing village identity they’re looking to keep.”

The most important thing they can do for their future growth, Mr. Lewandowski said, is to develop a plan and set of guiding principals to adhere to. Mayor Gauvry thinks that the comprehensive plan does just that. There are 80 homes within Little Creek’s town limits, two municipal structures and four commercial structures (all on the south portion of town). Even the mayor is willing to admit that their small, inactive “business hub” looks “blighted” at the moment. But he says the plan adds some direction for investors.

“We have a ton of information on the books now for any entrepreneur who wants to take advantage of this area,” he said. “They can go to the plan and know without a doubt what the zoning rules are now and what we project them to be in the next 10 to 20 years. We have floodplain information so they know how high to elevate their structures — there are important FEMA regulations to adhere to when you’re building in a floodplain. It also shows what residents are likely to respond well to.”

There has been plenty of interest in the commercial properties, especially the large lot where Cavalier Restaurant used to be, said Mayor Gauvry, but some of the ideas seem a bit misguided.

“Recently someone was looking at it for a car lot because of the space,” he said. “But that lot can get a ton of water during a flood, so it’s really not a good idea. I think naturally most people in town would love to see a restaurant open. But also a bait and tackle shop, hunting equipment store, kayak rental shop or even a butcher shop would all probably work well.”

One component of the plan the town leadership is particularly proud of is the section on air quality. Environmental Planners from DNREC’s Division of Air Quality were able to lend a hand with this section.

“As it turned out, they were ecstatic that someone would even ask for their input,” said Mr. Gauvry. “We now have the only comprehensive management plan in the entire state, including Wilmington, with an air quality component. We have a lot of nearby farms, mosquito control chemicals being spread, increased traffic and the C-5s from the base flying overhead, so we wanted part of the plan to address that.”

With the recent county and state investments, the guidance of the town’s new plan and existing natural resources, the town leadership believes that Little Creek it’s poised for modest, but serious growth.

“As soon as the dog park and boat ramp go in, there will be more people coming into town and I believe in capitalism — there will be money to be made here,” Mayor Gauvry said. “We’re a discovery zone on the Delaware Bayshore Byway so there’s added traffic on Rt. 9, Rt. 1 has a turnoff point and we have two access roads to Dover.

“We’ve got Port Mahon, Pickering Beach and the Little Creek Wildlife Area already. When all the work is done there will be a lot of draws here and easy access — growth is going to happen.”

To view Little Creek’s comprehensive plan and UD’s report (under appendices), visit littlecreek.delaware.gov/land-use/.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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