VIDEO - Here's how to explore the quieter side of our state and what's there.
One of the First State’s most scenic attractions, the Delaware Bayshore covers much of the coastline and is intended to be seen and enjoyed by all.
But not many people know about the Bayshore, and that’s unfortunate because there’s so much to see and do, noted Steve Borleske of Delaware Greenways and chairman of the Bayshore’s management committee. The Wilmington-based nonprofit’s mission is to preserve the state’s natural areas while making them accessible to the public.
Just a few miles east of the perpetually busy Del. Route 1 and easily reachable by any number of eastbound state roads, driving the Bayshore gives people a chance to experience life away from the fast lane, if only for a little while, he said.
“The Delaware Bayshore offers the opportunity to slip out of the hustle and bustle of our intense digital world and explore the quieter, wilder side of Delaware,” Borleske said.
Launched in 2015, the Bayshore Byway hugs the edge of marshland and shoreline from New Castle to Cape Henlopen, giving people the chance to explore back roads and federal and state wildlife preserves along the way. Much of its character is embodied in places such as Bowers, Leipsic, Little Creek, Delaware City and Port Penn, towns whose livelihood for years was -- or is -- based on life on the water.
The Byway takes travelers along and through these areas. State Route 9 forms the exploratory backbone as far south as Dover Air Force Base. An extension to Lewes and the Historic Lewes Byway was announced in April 2017.
Horseshoe crabs and red knots
The Bayshore Initiative is designed to preserve the coastline’s natural beauty, but that doesn’t mean the area is trapped in time, said Jeff Greene, director of planning for Delaware Greenways.
“The communities and the people who live and work there have an appreciation for what it means,” he said. “When you talk with them, you really begin to understand how special a place it is and how they know it’s special.”
Since he’s not a native Delawarean, Greene admits he didn’t know much about the coastal areas before the Bayshore project.
“But when I first drove over the Reedy Point Bridge and looked down on the coastal marshes, then went south to Port Penn and toward Bombay Hook, I came to understand how unique it is and how it can go away if we don’t take care of it,” he said.
The Bayshore offers opportunities for hunting turkey, small game, deer and waterfowl said Anthony Gonzon, Bayshore Initiative Coordinator at DNREC. Boat ramps give a chance to access the Delaware Bay and tidal rivers and creeks where visitors may enjoy crabbing and fishing.
DNREC is working on a $2.1 million boat ramp on what now is a parking lot on the east side of the bridge over the Little River, south of Little Creek. It will include parking for boat trailers, 11 single-vehicle parking spots and an 80-foot pier.
The construction follows a 2015 project that dredged and deepened the Little River, again making it navigable for small boats and watercraft.
The boat ramp project includes restoration work in the adjacent 4,700-acre Little Creek Wildlife Area and is scheduled for completion this year.
“Wildlife viewing, especially bird watching, is world-class with hundreds of acres of land protected as state and federal wildlife areas and refuges, especially where one can experience truly unique events like the spring migration of red knots and other shorebirds along central bay beaches and Mispillion Harbor,” Gonzon said. These tie in with the annual horseshoe crab invasion. The crabs use many Bayshore beaches to lay eggs.
The Bayshore provides habitat for more than 400 species of birds and other wildlife and is recognized as a Migratory Shorebird Site of Hemispheric Importance by the Wetlands Institute, a Wetland of International Significance by the Ramsar Convention and an Important Bird Area of Global Significance by the Audubon Society.
Numerous nature-observation stations along the byway help people understand the Bayshore environment.
“This land provides a natural classroom of a coastal environment to explore a host of aquatic creatures such as the horseshoe crab, resident and migratory birds and other wildlife and to see the ebb and flow of a coastal ecosystem,” Borleske said.
One of the observation areas, the Delaware Aquatic Resources Education Center, was dedicated in 2017 at the Woodland Beach Aquatic Resources Education Center, east of Smyrna. Devoted to the state’s wetlands, waterways and aquatic wildlife, it includes indoor and outdoor classrooms, saltmarsh boardwalk, eco-stations and nature trails and a kiosk with Byway information and maps.
The sounds of nature
Leipsic is one notable Kent County town situated on the Bayshore Byway, a quiet village of about 200 on the Leipsic River. It is adjacent to the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
Once a busy bay port, it still harbors boats that ply the local waters in search of crabs. Many of those boats dock near Sambo’s Tavern. Founded by Samuel C. “Sambo” Burrows in 1953, it remains a rustic landmark where credit cards are not accepted and patrons must be 21 to enter.
Gonzon said every community along the byway offers its own perspective of the Delaware Bayshore.
“I would invite everyone to visit each community to get a taste of the many flavors of the Bayshore,” Gonzon said.
Most of all, he added, it offers a chance to learn a new appreciation for the region and to enjoy all it has to offer.
“We want them the visit often and share those experiences with friends and family so that others can appreciate it long after we are gone,” he said.
“The Bayshore is full of nooks and crannies different from our mostly urban environment and offers abundant opportunities to have fun and build outdoor recreational skills,” he said.
Because of its connection to the water, the Bayshore offers recreational opportunities for the avid sportsman to the casual sightseer.
“The Bayshore area is not highly organized so many of these activities offer the challenge of building your outdoor skills,” Borleske said.
Gonzon said simply put, the Bayshore Byway offers a break from the normal breakneck travels between northern Delaware and the region to the south.
“If you are looking for shopping centers, movie theaters and traffic, you won’t find it along the Delaware Bayshore Byway,” Gonzon said. “Instead, the nightlife is the chorus of frogs calling from the marsh and the shops selling antiques.
“The only traffic jams are groups of birders parked on the shoulder scanning freshly plowed fields for shorebirds and gulls,” he said.
The rising sun burns away any lingering fog over the Leipsic River, along the Delaware Bayshore Byway. The Byway runs from New Castle to Lewes and is part of the Bayshore Initiative, designed to conserve, restore and protect waterways along those parts of the Delaware coast.