Laurel’s Ramble project seeks to develop Broad Creek area

A public kayak launch, which was completed in 2016, is among the amenities featured in Laurel’s The Ramble project along Broad Creek. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

LAUREL — Mayor John Shwed of Laurel could ramble on and on about The Ramble — a project that intertwines revitalization, development, recreation and nature with the town’s historic heritage.

Hatched by the town and the Laurel Redevelopment Corp. in 2014, The Ramble aims to develop property along Broad Creek and in the historic downtown into a thriving tourist attraction with new shops, fine dining and recreational venues.

“The whole concept,” said mayor says, “is to try to develop the whole area.”

Its design calls for a nature-based park for children, cottage-style homes, a kayak launch, a village green area, emphasis on nature tourism and new businesses that support the vision for the project and the town.

Conceptual ideas stemmed from a University of Delaware study on coastal communities.

“There was a lot of thinking going around, like how can we help create something unique for Laurel and try to rejuvenate that area, primarily along the Broad Creek, taking advantage of that very nice natural asset that we have?” said Mayor Shwed.

One element of the project is a walkway bordering Broad Creek, linking Mill’s Dam on the east all the way to Roger C. Fisher Park on the west. The walkway also would encompass Janosik Park.

Phase 1 plans for The Ramble Riverwalk are for the walkway to go under the Delmarva Central Railroad Bridge, before connecting at Roger C. Fisher Park, home to a boat launch.

Because the railroad segment remains in limbo, Delaware’s Department of Transportation has scheduled a virtual public workshop Dec. 8 from 6-7 p.m. on The Ramble Riverwalk’s Phase 2 concept design, which is concentrated on the walkway at Janosik Park.

“Phase 1 was to actually start construction at Roger C. Fisher Park, but we have to go under the railroad bridge,” said Laurel Town Manager Jamie Smith. “Because of having to go under there, we have to work with the railroad, and working with the railroad is nothing quick. It has already taken about a year, and we’ve not gotten real far. So we’re estimating probably about another year before we can get approval from the railroad.”

The town has secured $1 million in state Transportation Alternative Program funding for the walkway project.

“So to not hold up the project or the funds, DelDOT recommended that we move forward what we would call Phase 2,” said Ms. Smith. “The walkway in Janosik Park needs to be redone. So that is Phase 2.”

The holdup is a final legal agreement concerning liability, which has yet to be ironed out by the railroad and lawyers, said Mayor Shwed.

“There is plenty of access ways to go under the bridge. That is not the problem,” Mayor Shwed said. “The problem is, as you know, in the United States, we’re granted right of way, way back in the 1860s. The railroads are very protective of their right of ways.”

The Ramble’s plan is for a protective roof covering the walkway in the area of the railroad bridge, in the event something — debris, a chunk of coal or a rock — should fall off a railcar.

“We think we’re going to get that, but when you’re dealing with the railroad right of way, it does slow things up. We want that. We absolutely want that; it connects Roger Fisher Park,” said Mayor Shwed.

A new kayak launch, constructed by the Nanticoke Rotary Club on the south bank of Broad Creek near Poplar Street, was christened in 2016.

A unique Ramble feature will be Tidewater Park, a nature-based playground highlighting Native American folklore.

“It’s got a Native American theme. The Nanticoke Indians were very instrumental in the development of the area that eventually became the town of Laurel,” said Mayor Shwed.

It is estimated to be a $900,000 expenditure and will likely be done in phases, as state funding through efforts of local legislators becomes available.

Young trees, planted through a grant from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, are growing, and a bioswale has been constructed in the field that was the former home of the carnival and other activities during the town’s Independence Day celebration.

The site for the proposed children’s nature park features bioswales, which collect runoff and filter nutrients from water before it enters Broad Creek. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

On the south side, development plans call for cottage-style homes, a village green and specialty shops along the waterfront.

The overall mission, Mayor Shwed said, is to not raise local taxes, but to increase tourism, development/recreational opportunities and awareness of town history and the beauty of the Broad Creek area.

“We are not trying to do it with raising people’s taxes. We’re trying to do it through specialized grant funding. Right now, that has been a problem for us,” said Mayor Shwed. “It is going to take us some time to put it all together because one of the things that hurt the timing in the project was COVID-19 showed up. That really put a whack in the state budget.

“The plan is to encourage specialized businesses to locate downtown. We haven’t really landed any of those yet but that’s what the game plan is,” he said.

According to DelDOT spokesman Todd Pryor, the project limits are from where the existing path meets Front Street on the east side of Delaware Avenue to Central Avenue. The project will be replacing the existing shared-use path with a 10-foot concrete path. There will also be pedestrian improvements to the Front Street/Central Avenue intersection.

“Overall cost is yet to be determined, but a rough estimate at this point is about $1 million, including design and construction,” said Mr. Pryor. “We are currently in concept planning, which is the very beginning of the design process. At this point, we are developing a basic framework to build off … for the final design.

“With this project, we are working with the document that was developed some time ago between the town of Laurel and University of Delaware for this area. We are about halfway through the concept planning phase, so we should have that completed by March 2021. Final design should begin shortly after that, taking about 18 months.”