On Monday, Feb. 22, Milford City Council agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Delaware Nature Society. The city and Delaware Nature Society have long partnered to provide hands-on programming for Pre-Kindergarten to fifth grade students in Milford School District.
“We’ve been working on an MOU which is a formal agreement between Parks and Recreation and the Delaware Nature Society,” Brad Dennehy, Parks and Recreation Director said. “We believe they are a good provider of programming especially anything around water. Milford has invested a lot of money in building infrastructure of the Riverwalk and I think it behooves us to use this part of the town. This allows them to put on some really good programming, everything from kayak tours to bird watching. We don’t have a playbook yet of what will be put on, but his document just formalizes that. It is quite basic, but it has been reviewed by myself, Mark and the city attorney along with the board of the Delaware Nature Society.”
Emily Knearl, Director of Advocacy and External Affairs at the Delaware Nature Society agrees with Dennehy that the ability to conduct programming downtown along the city’s Mispillion River Greenway also provides Delaware Nature Society the opportunity to interpret the entire Mispillion River Watershed, from its Johnson’s Branch headwaters protected by our Isaacs-Green Preserve to the Goat Island Nature Preserve. It also provides an opportunity to interpret the downtown streets and small businesses that line the river’s urban stretches, the river’s convergence with Cedar Creek and the Delaware Bay in Slaughter Beach.
“This new MOU agreement was viewed by both entities as an opportunity to leverage our expertise in environmental and outdoor education with the city’s resources and facilities to enhance community engagement and environmental stewardship amongst Milford residents and the growing influx of tourists,” Knearl said. “It also helps us connect with constituencies that might not be able to or find it difficult to travel to Abbott’s Mill.”
Dennehy explained that the hope is to start out with discovery programs as the river is a large body of water. Councilman Mike Boyle mentioned that he saw an article about a company offering kayak rentals on the river, wondering if this would be competition.
“With the kayak tours through Delaware Nature Society you would have a certified leader who would take people down the river in small groups, pointing out some of the highlights, whether birds or other natural things,” Dennehy said. “I think that company is looking more at kayak rentals where people would just rent one and go out on their own. We don’t want to be in competition with that and I think this may complement their business somewhat. We have built these great amenities and I am excited about people using an entrepreneurial spirit.”
According to Knearl, some of the programs that may be offered on the Riverwalk are those that have been successfully implemented elsewhere. Abbott’s Mill has a fleet of canoes that are used for public programming as well as for school field studies. The organization also use kayak fleets that are housed at other locations for programs and are currently seeking grants as well as donations to purchase kayaks that would be housed at Abbott’s Mill. Knearl explained that paddling programs have been very popular among families and adults, including their Paddle Your ‘Brewshed’ Series which included paddles on local protected streams, tours of local businesses and community projects engaged in environmental sustainability. The tour ends with a tour and tasting at a local brewery or winery focused on sustainable practices.
“Unfortunately, current health and protocols have precluded us from being able to offer some of these popular traveling paddling programs, but we hope to resume them as soon as it is safe for our participants and staff,” Knearl said. “We are still able to offer paddling programs so as long as we put in and take out at the same location, which is how we will be running the Mispillion series. We also partner with Quest Adventures in Lewes to offer self-service single or double kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals on Abbott’s Pond from April to October.”
Dennehy explained council that these types of programs help get kids involved in nature programs, but they also bring people downtown where they can stroll along the river, visit restaurants and stores, while getting a feel for the many things downtown Milford has to offer.
“This brings people more things to do,” Councilman Jason James said. “We have spent a lot of time and money on the Riverwalk and I think these types of programs will bring people into Milford and find reasons to come back. I thank you for taking leadership on this.”
Dennehy also pointed out that the agreement placed no financial burden on the city, so it was a win-win in his opinion. It is written for one year and we may look at extending it, but it was common practice to enter into a new partnership for a temporary period at first to work out any bugs that could crop up.
“Research on environmental education and nature play shows time spent in nature can reduce stress, increase focus and attention, improve health and even enhance a child’s academic performance,” Knearl said. “Our hope through this programming partnership is to bolster the city’s current offering of recreation opportunities for youth, families and adults to enhance city resident’s connection to the natural world right in their backyard and to foster environmental literacy and stewardship among participants leading to an improvement of our environment through education, conservation and advocacy.”
Both Dennehy and Knearl say the goal is to increase downtown traffic in the city and connect people more with nature. The hope is that this translates into increased foot traffic downtown and serves as an economic driver for small businesses and local restaurants. Delaware Nature Society hopes to partner with businesses and restaurants to promote programs to their customers in a strategic and mutually beneficial way.
“We have an existing relationship with Downtown Milford, Inc., Milford’s accredited Main Street nonprofit organization as well as Kent and Sussex Tourism offices that can provide additional tools for promoting programs and Milford businesses to the growing flow of tourists and visitors the city has seen,” Knearl said.
City council voted unanimously to accept the Memorandum of Understanding.