Soon Delawareans will be able to walk, run, ride their horses, and cycle on a 16-mile paved path along the sparkling waters of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
The Michael Castle Trail, which will connect Delaware City to Chesapeake City, Maryland is expected to be completed later this year and will become one of the state’s ultimate destinations for hikers, runners, walkers, cyclists, finishing, and equestrian enthusiasts, according to DNREC Secretary David Small.
“We know that trail-related exercise is the No. 1 outdoor recreation activity in Delaware. And the Michael Castle Trail opens up trail activity such as hiking, biking, running and horseback riding to amazing numbers of people who live in its proximity,” Small said. “Within 20 miles of the canal, there are more than 700,000 Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents who will have the opportunity to experience the new trail.”
The trail project is divided into three major parts – C&D Canal East, C&D Canal Central, and C&D Canal West.
Some 7.5 miles of the trail at C&D Canal Central were completed and opened to the public in October 2013. At the end of 2014, another nine-tenths of a mile was finished. The paved trail has two trailheads, one is called, the Biddle Point Trailhead, located about two miles east of U.S. Route 13 at the canal. And, the other one is the St. Georges Trailhead, just under the St. Georges Bridge at the canal. Though the access roads to the trailheads are unpaved, upon arrival each facility has brand new car parking lots and restrooms. Biddle Point can accommodate parking for horse trailers.
What remains is trail construction for the east and west sides of the canal – a stretch connecting Fort DuPont in Delaware City to the Biddle Point Trailhead. And, the stretch from south of Lums Pond State Park, near Old Summit Road in Bear, to the Delaware-Maryland line. All construction is expected to be completed by the fall.
Multiple agencies have been working on the project, with the main one being the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (US ACE), which owns and operates the canal. Other project partners include, DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, DelDOT, and municipal governments including Delaware City and Chesapeake City.
The project has an estimated price tag of $15 million, according to the US ACE. Maryland and Delaware have allocated money in their states’ budgets and have received federal grants as well. Delaware secured an estimated $6 million for the project.
Already, over 100,000 people have used the completed portion of the Michael Castle Trail since it opened, according to results from DelDOT counters.
Trail aficionados first shared their vision of a path connecting the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay with Mike Castle when he served as governor. In 2004, when Castle was in Congress he initiated the project. Since then, numerous public officials at the federal and state level have rallied behind the trail including Gov. Jack Markell, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, U.S. Congressman John Carney, and others on the Maryland side.
“Each time we open a new trail, we are a step closer to our vision of a statewide trails network that will allow residents and visitors to see Delaware’s natural beauty up close, connect local businesses with new visitors, and link our communities,” said Markell when the first portion of the trail was opened to the public in 2013. “As a cyclist, I look forward to adding the Michael Castle Trail to my list of favorite places to ride.”
There are other similar trails in the state including, the Industrial Track Greenway in New Castle County, the Capitol City Trail in Kent County, and the Junction Breakwater Trail in Sussex County. The Mike Castle Trail, however, will be the only one connecting two states and has a lot of potential for benefiting the local economies.
“That is the narrowest part of the state geographically. People can make it a one-day trip cycling,” Moerschel said. “People can use the trail, then will visit those towns and learn about their history. They will go to the local restaurants and visit the area stores.”
West of the canal, in Maryland, the project is on schedule and is being completed by the US ACE.
“We have worked very closely with Maryland too to assure the trail design matched,” said Bob King, a spokesman for DelDOT.
The trail will continue to be patrolled and maintained by DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife after it’s fully completed. The US of ACE will also continue playing a significant role in its upkeep.
DNREC hopes that in the future, it will create a path connecting Lums Pond State Park directly to the Mike Castle Trail.
“These facilities are in high demand in our state and they will benefit all Delawareans,” Moerschel said.