New initiative aims to drive people to Delaware Bayshore

THOUSAND ACRE MARSH — With autumn foliage at its peak and the scenic Thousand Acre Marsh in the background, Gov. Jack Markell announced the Delaware Bayshore milestones Friday, aimed at enhancing Delaware’s natural resources for world-class conservation while boosting the economy through recreational activities.

The governor was joined by David Small, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Also participating in the announcement were Bernice Whaley, Delaware Economic Development Office secretary; conservation, transportation and tourism partners and Bayshore community leaders and residents.

All were gathered to highlight key accomplishments of the Delaware Bayshore Initiative.

The initiative aims to enhance and promote the region as a world-class conservation and low-impact recreation area, strengthen historic local communities and improve the quality of life for Delawareans. It received national recognition from the U.S. Department of the Interior as one of the country’s most promising ways to reconnect Americans to the natural world.

Gov. Jack Markell and DNREC Secretary David Small show off the new Bayshore branding design Friday at Thousand Acre Marsh near Port Penn. (Submitted/DNREC)

Gov. Jack Markell and DNREC Secretary David Small show off the new Bayshore branding design Friday at Thousand Acre Marsh near Port Penn. (Submitted/DNREC)

“The Delaware Bayshore Initiative builds on our reputation as a state of unique and beautiful natural resources, while also strengthening our economy by encouraging Delawareans and visitors to enjoy the area through activities like birding, fishing, and boating,” Gov. Markell said.

He said efforts to preserve wetlands, increase public access to the Bayshore and enhance the Bayshore as a valuable tourism destination will “help ensure we and future generations will fully enjoy all of the benefits the Bayshore offers.”

The Delaware Bayshore, extending along the Delaware River and Bay from New Castle to Lewes, is recognized as an area of global ecological significance. Its expansive coastal marshes, sandy shoreline, forests, fields and agricultural lands provide habitat for more than 400 species of birds and other wildlife. The Nature Conservancy has called the Delaware Bayshore, “one of the earth’s most important stopovers for migratory birds.”

Nearly 120,000 acres of Bayshore lands are protected as national wildlife refuges, state wildlife areas, state parks, national estuarine research reserves, private conservation areas, agricultural preserves and cultural heritage sites throughout the area.

“The Delaware Bayshore Initiative is building upon decades of significant conservation investment in preserving wetlands, forests, agricultural lands and open space,” said Secretary Small.

“By preserving and enhancing our precious Bayshore lands, we are encouraging Delawareans and visitors to enjoy these natural treasures and protecting the Delaware Bayshore and its wild and scenic landscape for future generations.”

Secretary Small praised the collaborative effort of federal and conservation partners and Bayshore communities.

Friday’s event highlighted four Bayshore milestones:

• Preservation of a key property at Thousand Acre Marsh, near Port Penn;

• Launch of the Delaware Bayshore Byway and Plan;

• Opening a new trail and wildlife viewing platform;

• Unveiling the Bayshore’s new branding design.

The projects were made possible through a variety of partnerships and state, federal and private funding sources.

The announcement was made to highlight land preservation of the 140-acre Bennett Farm property at Thousand Acre Marsh. The farm, a key coastal wetland property, is part of the Thousand Acre Marsh near Port Penn and was preserved through a federal grant of $731,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program, along with matching state funds and private contributions.

Conservation of the 140-acre property brings a total of 528 acres of Thousand Acre Marsh under permanent protection and expands access to wildlife habitat within the Delaware Bayshore. With this property, the Augustine Wildlife Area, including the Thousand Acre Marsh, totals 3,130 protected acres.

Delaware’s matching cost share for the grant was about $500,000, consisting of Delaware Open Space Program funds and partner contributions, and a land value match from a nearby state-owned tract that was part of the grant provisions placed under the protection of the NCWCG program.

Three conservation partner groups who financially supported the project are The Nature Conservancy in Delaware with funding from Mt. Cuba Center, the Delmarva Ornithological Society and Delaware Wild Lands.

The byway

The Delaware Bayshore Byway, extending along Del. 9 from the New Castle to the St. Jones Neck east of Dover, was officially launched Friday.

As “the road less traveled,” the Delaware Bayshore Byway meanders along the Delaware River and Bay through the heart of the Bayshore’s most picturesque coastal marshes, sandy shorelines, forests, fields and agricultural lands. The byway is the tourism backbone of the Bayshore — connecting special natural areas, recreation and historical sites and Bayshore communities.

“DelDOT is pleased to collaborate with DNREC, Bayshore communities and others to promote, preserve and enhance the natural and cultural resources that make the Bayshore region special,” said Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan.

“By building trails and maintaining roadways, DelDOT proudly supports eco-tourism throughout the state of Delaware.”

The launch also included details on the Corridor Management Plan for the byway. The plan was funded by a grant of $146,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration’s National Scenic Byway Program, with additional funds provided by local state legislators.

Federal Highway Administration Delaware Division Administrator Mary Ridgeway said, “The nearly $1.1 million in federal funding for the Delaware Bayshore Byway management plan and future improvements will help boost the economy by creating jobs and bringing tourist dollars to the region.”

The Corridor Management Plan was developed by the Bayshore Planning Advisory Committee, comprised of representatives from state agencies, environmental groups, tourism offices and Bayshore communities, with leadership from Delaware Greenways.

It also includes goals that will brand and market the Bayshore and Byway.

Steve Borleske, chairman of the Bayshore Planning Advisory Committee and Delaware Greenways board member, said the planning process spanned a two-year period.

A byway extension which will continue south from St. Jones Neck east of Dover to the City of Lewes has been proposed.

As of now, according to the DNREC press release, Bowers Beach, Slaughter Beach and the community of Broadkill Beach have voted to be part of the byway extension. Talks continue with other Bayshore communities.

Brand design

Also unveiled Friday was a new branding design that is aimed to promote the Delaware Bayshore as an eco-tourism destination. It aims to promote natural and historical areas, the byway itself and communities. The goal, according to the DNREC release, is to brand Bayshore as a distinctive and memorable travel destination for both Delawareans and out-of-state visitors.

“We’re very fortunate that Bayshore partners have worked with us to incorporate the look and feel of the new Delaware tourism logo into their brand,” said Secretary Whaley. “With its new identity, the Delaware Bayshore becomes a clearly identifiable place of its own …

“This is truly a win-win for us all.”

The brand designs include a branding statement, logos, slogan, signage and advertisements that can be used by the partners to market and promote the Bayshore in a coordinated way.

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