Path to success: Milford’s Riverwalk sees upgrades to support community activities, economy

Looking for a nice night out on the town? Milford officials hope visitors and residents alike can find that right in their own downtown along the more than 30-year-old Riverwalk path.

But it needed serious repair to keep it up-to-date and easily accessible for those searching for a long walk or a scenic bicycle ride along the Mispillion River.

“Over time and being exposed to the elements, the wooden decking had become deteriorated and had warped and split,” Parks & Recreations Director Brad Dennehy said.

The previous director, Gary Emory, is well known as the originating driving force behind the Mispillion Riverwalk project more than 30 years ago. The mile-long Riverwalk was completed over 23 phases, including the purchase of Goat Island behind the current Milford Police Department.

Since then, the Riverwalk has acted as a centerpiece attraction to the downtown Milford area with events and businesses centered around the walking path.

Annual events like the Riverwalk “Freedom” Festival hosted by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford, the Bug & Bud Festival hosted by Downtown Milford, Inc. and the newest addition to the list, the Ladybug Music Festival by Gable Music and DMI, have been centered around the Riverwalk.

“The Mispillion Riverwalk really is the beating heart of the city of Milford. It bisects Kent and Sussex County. And, also, we have the Milford Library, we have the farmer’s market here on Saturdays, we have a lot of unique boutiques and restaurants down here. So, it really has withstood the test of time. It really has become a part of our community moving from generation to generation. I can’t wait to see what the next project is that we can highlight and get more people on the river. Kayaking, canoeing and just enjoying the outdoors and enjoying a healthy lifestyle,” Representative Bryan Shupe said.

Downtown Milford, Inc.’s new Executive Director Trish Gerken adds, “Since the beginning of Milford’s history, the Mispillion River has been the backbone of its economy.  From the mills to the shipbuilding industry, the Mispillion River has always acted as the commercial center of Milford. Along the Riverwalk you can find a number of events including the Bug and Bud Festival, the Riverwalk Farmers Market, the Ladybug Music Festival and the Holiday Stroll. These events showcase what Milford has to offer while providing a fun and safe place for families to have fun in their community. Whether you want to eat, shop, or see a show or exhibit, you can find it all along the Riverwalk in Milford’s historic downtown.”

To maintain the active lifestyle Milfordians have come to enjoy downtown, renovations to the Riverwalk were needed.

According to City Manager Eric Norenberg, the power-washing, demolition and replacement of more than 10,000 square feet of wooden decking with polymer lumber was required, along with the installation of 2,000 linear feet of polymer caps. The structural decking of its four pedestrian bridges was removed and replaced.

“Parts of the Riverwalk are over 30 years old, so obviously there’s some aging. There were a number of sections that were beginning to not only look unsightly, but some safety concerns. And so, this has been a major refurbishment that has greatly increased the appearance of it, improved the appearance, as well as the functionality of it,” Representative Charles Postles said.

Mr. Dennehy says maintenance will continue to be needed, but the most recent upgrades should last several years and will “go a long way to extending the life of the Riverwalk.”

He added, “The Riverwalk is used daily by the public and is the lifeblood of the downtown. It has taken many years to complete the Riverwalk and we will continue to maintain it to a high level so people can enjoy it.”

The upgrades cost approximately $373,000 which was funded by various local and state resources.

“The City was awarded a $93,787.07 grant from DNREC [Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control] through the Outdoor Recreation Parks and Trails (ORPT) Grant program. The city provided $179,499.24 for the project. Senators and representatives helped make these upgrades possible by providing support for funding from the Community Transportation Fund (CTF) in the amount of $118,492.63. Legislators involved were Senator Simpson, Senator Wilson, Representative Kenton, Representative Postles, and Representative Shupe,” Mr. Dennehy said.

The city’s Public Works Department supported the project, as well, with a multi-year project to refurbish and upgrade lighting along the Riverwalk, according to Mr. Norenberg.

“The Riverwalk is very important to Milford. The town is really on both sides of the river. The river was very instrumental to the history of this town. And it is a beautiful, natural resource to walk along the river. You can see the downtown area and the residential and some of the business areas, as well. It’s a great centerpiece, really, of Milford,” Rep. Postles said.

The next major event to take place along the Mispillion Riverwalk will be Milford’s Small Business Saturday, Nov. 30 when Santa Claus makes his trek back to his home next to the river.

“Small Business Saturday has become a day of community celebration and a great way to show your support of your hometown shops,” Ms. Gerken said. “This year will be the 10th annual Small Business Saturday sponsored by American Express, which encourages communities to go out and support their favorite local shops.  In 2018, over 7,500 neighborhoods participated nationwide.”

The Saturday after Thanksgiving will be filled with discounts and extended hours from local businesses to encourage the community to shop local for their holiday wares.

Santa will arive at 11 a.m. on a firetruck from Carlisle Fire Department in Milford, escorted by Mayor Archie Campbell. Once he arrives, children can visit him for the first time this holiday season.

The Santa House, located along the Mispillion Riverwalk, will be open on Fridays from 5-8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 11-3 p.m. He will also accept visitors Monday, Dec. 23 from 5-8 p.m.

“The Riverwalk has served as the anchor for Milford’s downtown for many years.  The one mile long Riverwalk weaves through the heart of downtown and offers many amenities. You can shop, eat, drink, paddle and be entertained all while enjoying the views of the Mispillion River,” Ms. Gerken said.

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