State wants tourism migrating to Bombay Hook refuge


Gov. John Carney on top of the observation tower at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge during his tour Wednesday. ( Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

SMYRNA — In eastern Kent County, along the coast of the Delaware Bay, sit 16,000 acres of protected land home to many species of birds, reptiles and mammals.

On a cloudy and humid September day, shorebirds looked for food in the mud, while herons and egrets stood still along the shores and two eagles surveyed the world from a small muddy islet created by receding tides. On the rocky road that separates the freshwater and brackish sides, several visitors observed the scenery with binoculars, looking with rapt attention.

This is Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, one of Kent County’s main attractions. Composed mostly of tidal salt marshes, the reserve draws many people interested in nature, including birdwatchers, photographers and hunters.

The refuge is already a popular destination, attracting 100,000 visitors last year, but tourism officials are hoping to further promote the area.

Wednesday, Gov. John Carney, accompanied by officials from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Tourism Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the refuge, took a tour of the site.

While some people spend half the day in the refuge, according to Tina Watson, Bombay Hook’s outdoor recreation planner, Gov. Carney and his entourage left after a little more than an hour to continue a planned “eco-tour” that will, when it’s finished next week, have taken him to spots in all three counties.

Governor with staff members at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge during his tour of various environmental sites in the state. ( Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

The governor said he hoped to learn more about “the natural beauty of our state,” as well as ways to capitalize on that for economic growth in industries like tourism.

“This is an extraordinary natural resource for our state and for both the people who live here and visitors,” he said.

Bombay Hook includes stretches of grasslands, forests and freshwater pools and is, according to its website, “one of the largest remaining expanses of tidal salt marsh in the mid-Atlantic region.”

Birds of many species can be spotted in the refuge throughout the year, with changes depending on the season. Spring sees shorebirds like sandpipers, avocets and plovers stop as they migrate south, while waterfowl like ducks and geese are common sights in the fall and winter months.

There are three active bald eagle nests, although refuge officials are hopeful another, which was destroyed in the winter by a storm, will be rebuilt.

Bombay Hook is also home to deer, muskrats and terrapins, among other animals.

The refuge was founded in 1937 and transformed over the next few years, with the Civilian Conservation Corps constructing dams, ditches and buildings. Today, it has 12 miles of roads, five trails and three observation towers and brings nature enthusiasts from many miles away. Visitors from 46 states and 12 countries toured the site last year.

“If you’re a birdwatcher, you probably know about Bombay Hook,” Ms. Watson said.

The site is one of more than 500 refuges nationwide and draws more visitors than Delaware’s other wildlife preserve, Prime Hook in Milton.

Bombay Hook — which takes its name from a Dutch word that means “little-tree point” — is a stop on both the Delaware Outdoor and Geocaching trails.

It’s closed to most visitors on select days September through January to allow hunters to take aim at some of the deer, waterfowl and turkeys that live in the marshlands and forests.

Tourism is a multi-billion-dollar industry in Delaware, and while the state’s beaches are well-known, they’re almost empty the majority of the year. The Tourism Office is hoping to draw people to the state year-round and make Delawareans more aware of the state’s sights and sounds, emphasizing attractions like the refuge.

“As we try to make Delaware a place where people want to locate their business, where people want to come and work, increasingly they want quality of life, they want other things, they want things to do,” Gov. Carney said, citing the protected marshlands as a good draw.

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