Commentary: A big win for conservation and Delaware communities

By Laura Miller

Good news can be rare these days. In this pivotal moment in history, we need it more than ever. We also need something that will help put people to work, improve infrastructure and provide residents with outdoor recreation opportunities that are close to home and bring people together.

This month, a bill that would do all these things passed both the Senate and House in Congress. The Great American Outdoors Act was supported by the entire Delaware congressional delegation and is expected to be signed into law in the coming days.

Conservationists around the country are celebrating the passage of this historic bill, which will fully and permanently support the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This program has provided funds since 1964 to support restoration at locations like Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, but never were we this close to ensuring the program would be fully funded in perpetuity.

Since the inception of the LWCF, Delaware has received over $64 million in funds that were invested into nearly 200 sites statewide. These sites offer a space for recreation in the natural world, something many people have turned to for solace and activity during the pandemic. As available open space continues to shrink, these investments are crucial to providing outdoor opportunities to future generations and protecting land, such as forests, that safeguard air and water quality and wildlife habitat.

A recent addition to the many sites that Delaware can enjoy thanks in part to funds from LWCF is the Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve in Slaughter Beach. Before the addition of a new scenic byway boardwalk that stretches into the marsh, the preserve was only accessible through a small collection of roadside wooden pallets. From the new boardwalk, visitors can see migratory shorebirds like red knots and sandpipers, spawning horseshoe crabs, nesting osprey, salt marsh sparrows, northern harriers and other fascinating wildlife.

This preserve’s bike-friendly and accessible boardwalk, made possible in part by funding from LWCF, has an incredible impact on the community. Since its grand opening in April 2019, over 18,800 people have visited the preserve and boardwalk. It serves as a location for Delaware Nature Society’s Abbott’s Mill Nature Center to host over 1,000 students annually for hands-on educational programs, and nearly 50 volunteers visit each spring to count horseshoe crabs to help Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control better understand their populations and set commercial harvest limits.

Outdoor areas such as the Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve provide learning opportunities to local residents and visitors, their creation and maintenance supports jobs in the area, and they promote healthy water, air and wildlife habitat. With full and permanent funding of LWCF, Delaware can look forward to more outdoor picnic areas and parks and trails closer to home, as well as improvements to existing state parks.

If you have gotten outside during the pandemic, you likely understand the wonder and excitement nature and parks can bring to children, the interest it sparks in people of all ages or the feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves. Those are the feelings that motivated environmental advocates around the nation and of all backgrounds and beliefs, including Delaware’s congressional delegation, to join in support of the Great American Outdoors Act.

The Delaware Nature Society recognizes the power that the natural world has in our society, which is why we support legislation such as this. We encourage you to join us and use your voice in support of the environment by advocating to our elected officials for other legislation like the Great American Outdoors Act, which will protect air and water, support jobs and bring people together.

Laura Miller is an environmental advocate at the Delaware Nature Society. More information can be found at delawarenaturesociety.org/centers/marvel-saltmarsh-preserve/.