Marvel Tract saltmarsh boardwalk project in Slaughter Beach to begin

Local and state officials break ground at the site of the soon-to-be Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve Boardwalk in Slaughter Beach. (Delaware State News/Jennifer Antonik)

SLAUGHTER BEACH — A path 20 years in the making will soon be built in Slaughter Beach.

The sleepy town, as Mayor Harry Ward affectionately calls it, welcomes thousands of students each year to marshlands within its borders in hopes of educating youth and preserving nature.

After great persistence by many, a saltmarsh boardwalk along Delaware Nature Society’s Marvel Tract will soon help residents, students and other visitors enjoy what is often hidden in the depths of the marshy habitat.

Gov. John Carney, DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan, DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin, Mayor Ward and other officials celebrated a groundbreaking Thursday morning as the boardwalk project finally nears its next stage.

“The scenic overlook that we are building here will provide a new opportunity to enjoy this saltmarsh landscape and a diverse array of wildlife year-round,” Gov. Carney said. “This project will help Delawareans, and visitors to our state, discover our state’s rich history and natural heritage, as well as the Bayshore’s natural beauty.”

Slaughter Neck Mayor Harry Ward speaks as Gov. John Carney and DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin look into the crowd. (Delaware State News/Jennifer Antinok)

The idea for the boardwalk was presented to members of the town council 20 years ago but plans fell flat. Resident Bill McSpadden, however, thought it was important enough to continue pursuing the vision.

Mayor Ward told the crowd Thursday morning that Mr. McSpadden’s persistence helped the project move toward completion.

“He didn’t take complacency or rejection lying down,” Mayor Ward said. “This project defines the old-time statement that many of you would say is the Delaware way … What better way to highlight the Delaware way than through partnerships.”

Mr. McSpadden saw the potential in a boardwalk along the marsh. So, after it was initially rejected, he took the idea back to the Delaware Nature Society and town council. This time, they came together, with the help of grants written by the town, to create something that could benefit thousands.

“It’s not surprising to me that a project like this started with the vision of one person. It happens all the time in this great state of Delaware,” Gov. Carney said.

“This is really cool. I tell people my job as governor is to create a place that is good to raise a family and in order to do that, we have to have cool stuff.”

Interesting attractions and businesses, he added, will ultimately attract new residents, businesses or other growth to Delaware.

“I took an oath to preserve the rich and beautiful history of Delaware and that’s what we’re doing today,” he said.

The Marvel family of Milford also saw the potential in preservation and education when they donated the 109-acre marsh in Slaughter Beach to the Delaware Nature Society in 1988 — now called the Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve.

According to a press release from the Delaware Nature Society after Thursday’s event, “the preserve is home to many species, including fiddler crabs, blue crabs, grass shrimp, mollusks, and insects, as well as being a premier birding destination, with marsh wrens, seaside sparrows, clapper rails, great egrets, willets, and osprey.”

The accessible boardwalk will be built with a Y-shape at approximately 345 feet, allowing visitors and residents to view and experience firsthand all that the natural landscape has to offer in this Bayshore ecosystem.

“We’re setting this up so all of our citizens can take advantage of this,” DNREC Sec. Garvin said proudly.

The construction of the boardwalk, estimated to begin within months, was funded primarily from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration via DelDOT’s Transportation Alternative Funding. The press release adds that the program requires matching funds from a sponsor. “With a long-term land lease between DNS and the town in place, Slaughter Beach is serving as the match sponsor, with a second grant from DNREC’s Outdoor Recreation Parks and Trails gran program,” it reads.

The initial design and engineering processes were paid for through a grant from DNREC’s Outdoor Recreation Parks and Trails grant program, along with DNREC’s Delaware Bayshore Initiative.

Retiring Sen. Gary Simpson and Rep. Harvey Kenton also helped fund the project through the Community Transportation Fund. Other funds were provided by the Delmarva Ornithological Society, Milford Lions Club and Dogfish Head Brewery.

“DelDOT is pleased to partner with DNREC and the town of Slaughter Beach in the construction of a scenic overlook along the Delaware Nature Society’s Marvel tract,” Sec. Cohan said. “This overlook will be another great addition to the Delaware Bayshore Byway that showcases our beautiful state.”

The greatest joy from this project, however, might come from the youngest visitors — the students and those who get to witness their joy of learning from the “magic of nature in our backyard,” as Anne Harper of the Delaware Nature Society said.

“This will be fabulous for the kids to come out and enjoy,” Mr. McSpadden said. “I grew up down here. So, I was educated here at the marsh. To me, this is nature’s nursery. It’s about education. If we can teach the next generation to be kind and pick up the terrapins to help, we’ve done our job. We should teach the next generation how to conserve our nature.”

Jennifer Antonik writes special reports for the Delaware State News

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