The former site of a mobile home park is now the future home of Nanticoke Crossing Park, both a conservation effort and one of few opportunities for public recreation along the Nanticoke River.
The 64-mile river once explored by Captain John Smith remains a sleeping giant. While eastern Sussex County is known for its variety of outdoor activities and sprawling state parks, to the west, the Nanticoke is a virtually untapped eco-tourism asset.
The river is the most pristine tributary of the Chesapeake Bay and features the highest rate of biodiversity in the watershed, according to Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn.
The 41-acre Nanticoke Crossing Park, located at Woodland Ferry Road and Dot Avenue, includes a 29-acre forest, 12 acres of open space with large canopy trees and 1,900 feet of natural shoreline.
It features many species of native trees, large stands of spatterdock, blue flag iris, sweetspire and highbush blueberry. Fox, deer, painted turtles, bald eagles, osprey and songbirds are common sights.
A lagoon with remnants of an old dock will be revamped to allow kayak, canoes and other non-motorized marine vehicles to enter the river. There’s a dirt path throughout the open area and trails within the woods.
Events, hunting and camping are all being considered for the park, but plans have not yet been finalized. It will be at least a year before Nanticoke Crossing opens to the public.
“There’s nothing quite like (Nanticoke Crossing], with the larger park-like setting,” Dunn said. “We’re trying to build the infrastructure to get people outdoors and that drives the economy in a sustainable way. People gotta buy gas, they gotta buy lunch, maybe stay the night. Rent a kayak, maybe get a beer afterwards.”
Chesapeake Conservancy is one of many nonprofits and government agencies that came together to making the park a reality, including Sussex County Land Trust, Sussex County Council, Mt. Cuba Center, U.S. Navy Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program, Delaware Open Space Program and Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Sussex County Land Trust Chairman Casey Kenton called the park “a labor of love.”
“There were multiple times at our board meetings that I said, ‘This deal is not gonna happen, there are too many funding sources, there’s too many decision makers,'” he said. “These deals take a lot of time.”
The property was purchased from Absher Farms LLC. Seaford native and contractor Ray Absher Jr. bought the land three years ago in a short sale, intending to develop it.
It was a neglected mobile home park at the time, possessed by the bank, but Absher saw the potential.
“I just thought it was a beautiful spot and they offered enough money that it was tempting,” he said.
Further upstream in Seaford, Oyster House Park will open July 1 at the foot of Cannon and Pearl streets. It will be part of the Seaford riverwalk and feature a visitors’ center, city dock, amphitheater and pavilions.