Ground broken on hiking trail in Dover

Rep. W. Charles “Trey” Paradee and his dog Teddy walk with Dr. Mary Jane McClements along the Fork Branch Nature Trail in Dover on Wednesday (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Trail-lovers and outdoorsy Kent Countians rejoiced Wednesday as state officials broke ground with their golden shovels to celebrate the new Fork Branch Trail in Dover.

On hand to help mark the occasion, Gov. John Carney said that the trail will help boost residents recreational enjoyment and drive tourism in central Delaware.

“In Dover and Kent County, where we don’t have as many trails, other than on the Bayshore, this is a great resource for us all to enjoy,” he said. “It’s really going to be an enduring place.”

The Fork Branch Nature Preserve is one of Dover’s few remaining natural areas. State officials say the preserve contains a “unique stand of old growth American beech, a wooded stream corridor and several rare and threatened plant species.”

Gov. John Carney and DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin and others toss dirt during the ground breaking at the Fork Branch Nature Trail in Dover on Wednesday (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The 247-acre property that will host the new trail is northwest of downtown at the corner of Kenton and West Denneys roads, along the Maidstone Branch in the St. Jones River Watershed.

Open to the public, the trails will be also be an asset for local senior citizen communities and Delaware State University, according to Raymond Bivens, division director for Delaware State Parks.

“A DSU professor that teaches at wildlife department told me that it’s going to be a great place to take students for hand-on learning,” he said.

Because it’s a preserve, Mr. Bivens said it’s under the umbrella of the highest level of protection the state’s park system offers.

“This isn’t going to be a site that will ever have a campground or a massive parking lot or a nature cent, it’s all about the resource itself,” he said.

The land was acquired by the state back in 2003 for an estimated $2.5 million, officials said.

However, the purchase was made possible by a large donation from the late Dr. Jim McClements and his family — the original owner of the property. It was assessed at a fair market value of $5 million, but he decided to donate half of the value on the condition that the park would one day bear the name of his wife, Anne, and that it would be made available for public enjoyment.

Gov. John Carney talks during breaking at the Fork Branch Nature Trail in Dover on Wednesday (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The Division of Parks and Recreation will construct, manage and maintain the accessible, pedestrian-only trail.

The proposed improvements will cost an estimated $400,000 and will include a five foot wide gravel mile-long trail, several wetland bridges, a parking lot with five parking stalls and room for buses and signage in it’s first phase.

In the second phase of the project, an additional, rugged three-quarters of a mile trail will be added. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of this year or spring of 2018, depending on conditions.

An archaeological study performed on the site before committing it to a trail highlighted its ancestral history when it unearthed a “jasper point” crafted by the areas indigenous people over 10,000 years ago.

Representatives from the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware were on hand at the groundbreaking to express their approval of the plan.

“I think it’s an excellent use of the land — we’re glad to see it being preserved,” said Lenape tribeswoman Doris Cooper of Dover, “Our grandparents are buried over at the Fork Branch Cemetery and in the 1850s, they had a lot of family that lived in the area.

“Our family has used these woods for many years. We’re happy to see it not become a development, because once it’s concrete, it’s gone. It’s hard to let nature take the land back after that and the original beauty would be lost.”

Director of DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation Raymond Bivens talks during breaking at the Fork Branch Nature Trail in Dover on Wednesday (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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