by Terry Rogers
Slaughter Beach Mayor Harry Ward is excited to begin a project that has been in the works for the past three years. This Spring, bids will go out for the construction of a boardwalk in the Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve with construction planned to begin in the Fall. The project is a partnership between Slaughter Beach Town Council and the Delaware Nature Society (DNS). The Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve exists on land donated by the Marvel family of Milford. The area is used by DNS as well as other educational organizations to teach children about marsh, wetlands and ecology. Currently, a series of pallets provide the only access to the area.
“Presently, there is no real access to the Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve,” Mayor Ward said. “This is an unspoiled, ecologically significant ecosystem and wildlife habitat. The boardwalk will provide a viewing area overlook and boardwalk and provide pedestrian access into the marsh for scenic and educational purposes. The Delaware Nature Society has led school groups in guided educational programs into the marsh to observe firsthand wildlife and bird watching. DNS educational programs also include aquatic and dip-netting studies. Currently, school aged children cross into the marsh on pallets that are often underwater at high tide, and tourists and other visitors aren’t aware of the unparalleled beauty of the Delaware marshes and wetlands or the benefits that the marshes provide.”
The Delaware Bayshore initiative was launched in Slaughter Beach in 2012 by then Secretary of State Ken Salazar. Slaughter Beach Town Council and a few residents began working with DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife as well as the Delaware Bayshore Byway to find ways to showcase Slaughter Beach while also drawing attention to the beach town’s natural resources. The boardwalk project was one of the ways the town felt they could reach those goals.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions with DNS for several years about the possibility of constructing a small boardwalk for the marsh,” Mayor Ward said. “Our zoning would allow it, but DNS was unable to come up with the funding, so the project was put on the back burner. Three years ago, the Town had the opportunity to apply for a grant from DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation and contacted DNS to see if they were interested in partnering with us. The Town and DNS executed a long-term lease and the Town submitted a grant proposal to DNREC. We began a fundraising campaign for the design and permitting of the boardwalk project.”
The project was funded in two phases with Phase I the design stage. The Town was able to hire Landscape Architectural Services, Inc. for the design of the boardwalk as well as to create estimated construction costs and apply for the necessary permits. A matching grant from DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation was used to fund Phase I of the project with the matching funds provided by the Town, DNS, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and DNREC’s Delaware Bayshore Initiative.
Phase II of the project is the construction phase and it is being funded through a matching grant from DelDOT’s Transportation Alternative Program. DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation, Senator Gary Simpson, Representative Harvey Kenton, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Delmarva Ornithological Society and the Milford Lions Club provided the matching funds.
The boardwalk is designed for many uses with the educational opportunity the most important. Approximately 1,000 school children visit the Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve each year while schools and organizations bring as many as another 1,000 children to the area. The boardwalk will have a deck, north reach, overhanging the tidal pool. This will allow for educational dip-netting activities. There will also be educational signs about wetlands, their functions and their importance.
“Wetlands are extremely valuable in this area,” Mayor Ward said. “They provide flood control, which not only help the town, but also inland farms from saltwater intrusion on their fields. Wetlands act as ‘nature’s nursery’ for a host of animals, from blue crabs to baby diamondback terrapins. The more people, especially kids, are educated about their importance, the better we should be able to preserve and protect them.” The southern reach of the boardwalk will provide an elevated platform for birdwatching.
Three years ago, the Town, in cooperation with DNS and DuPont Nature Center, installed an osprey nest which has produced, to date, seven chicks that have fledged. The Town’s goal is to continue fundraising in order to install an Osprey camera
along with other amenities. Mayor Ward explained that either leg of the boardwalk will provide open expanses for the marsh for those who wish to observe the water or watch the sunset.
The biggest challenge Slaughter Beach has faced in getting the project underway is funding.
“There were a few blips on the way based on permitting, etc.,” Mayor Ward said. “Nothing which couldn’t be overcome. One challenge we didn’t have is getting support from state agencies. Several agencies were extremely helpful in identifying potential funding sources, or actually donated funds.”
The Town has planned a fundraising event with funds raised split between DNS and the Memorial Fire Company. The event is the “Running from the Greenheads” 5k. Registered walkers get a t-shirt and “swag bag” with gifts inside including a flyswatter, insect repellent wipe, sunscreen wipe, fly tape and other items donated by area businesses and individuals. The event is planned for Sunday, May 6 from 8 AM until Noon.
“The 5k will precede the ceremonial groundbreaking for the boardwalk project,” Mayor Ward said. “Besides being known for horseshoe crabs and shorebirds, we are known for greenhead flies, so we thought we’d have some fun with it. Some of the days events and activities are still being worked out, but we will have some games, food and beverages for purchase as well as information tables and a band after the groundbreaking.” Information on the 5k including how to register can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/181888599203487/
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