Connecting with Nature is Priceless at the James Farm Ecological Preserve

By Maddy Goss, Communications Specialist

One of the very first stories Jared Ryan, the Center’s environmental educator, tells during public programs at the James Farm Ecological Preserve is that of Mary Lighthipe. She always dreamed the 150-acre Preserve she gifted to Sussex County would become an oasis, a haven for environmental education, and a place beloved by its neighbors and visitors alike.

Standing along the edge of the circular parking lot, which was among the first steps taken toward a Master Plan for the Preserve, Jared chats with masked participants as they arrive one-by-one for a morning tour. On this sunny April morning, about a dozen people join to learn more about the natural encounters they might have on the journey through woodlands to the Indian River Bay beach of Pasture Point Cove.

Jared Ryan’s public programs at the James Farm Ecological Preserve are full of fun-facts about the ecosystems and species found in this 150-acre oasis near Ocean View.

Mary Lighthipe was a descendant of the James family, which had farmed the land for generations. She gave the 150-acre James Farm property as a gift to Sussex County in memory of her son, Harold, who died in an automobile accident. She gave it with the condition that the property be used for environmental education and recreational activities. Learn more about the history of James Farm Ecological Preserve on the Center’s website.

Jared Ryan is the Center’s Environmental Educator this spring and summer 2021.

Jared is an ecologist and a Dagsboro native, heading for a master’s program at Texas State University this fall to study the breeding ecology of colonial seabirds. We, and everyone who has had the chance to join him for any of his fabulous public programs, will dearly miss him!

It’s his knowledge of native plants, such as highbush blueberries, water quality and the species that depend on it, and all of the fun facts to share in between that keep everyone entranced in the sights and sounds of the Preserve. A male osprey circling overhead offers a reminder of how far the Bays’ habitats can reach, and their spring nesting season offers another fantastic opportunity to teach the public about migration, coastal habitats, and everyone’s impact on the environment around them.

At a recent public program at the Preserve, Jared Ryan pointed out these unique features called galls. Galls are abnormal growths on trees, typically caused by insects laying eggs inside or feeding on the branches of leaves of trees and other plants.

Whether you’re an avid hiker or nature lover, a teacher or a parent/guardian, or just new to the area and open to exploration, the public programs that Jared has kicked off in 2021 are not to be missed.

“Each tour is personalized to the audience,” explained Jared, who said he aims to include information that he would like to learn if he was attending an event. “For example, with a bird tour in May, you’re able to experience it as it’s happening, like seeing a bald eagle fly over your head. That beautiful backdrop of the Preserve really accentuates the experience and allows people to feel immersed in the Inland Bays.”

Nearly 100 people have joined us for these free public programs since they launched in March. They’re among a fraction of the tens of thousands of visitors the Preserve sees each year. As more people find out about its marvels, the Center wants to ensure that all ages and abilities are able to experience nature up close. That’s why a Master Plan is in the works to make the Preserve more accessible to all, and enhance its ability to educate visitors for decades to come.

Learn more about these plans and consider donating today at

The free public programs offered at the James Farm Ecological Preserve offer opportunities to get up to close to the natural environment.

The recurring events in May include topic-based tours of the Preserve, “Creature Feature” lessons on horseshoe crabs, guided walks that explore the ospreys and shorebirds of the Bays, and a Kids Day at the Preserve environmental education program. See the list below for May program dates and stay tuned for more in next month’s newsletter!

James Farm Ecological Preserve Tour, from 2-3 p.m., on:

  • Wednesday, May 19

Pre-register HERE.

Birds of the Inland Bays, from 8-10 a.m., on: 

  • Monday, May 17 (Focus: Osprey)
  • Monday, May 24 (Focus: Marsh Birds)

Pre-register HERE.

Creature Feature: Horseshoe Crab

  • 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Friday, May 21
  • 7-9 p.m., Tuesday, May 25
  • 1-3 p.m., Wednesday, May 26

Pre-register HERE.

Kids Day at the Preserve

  • 9-10 a.m., Saturday, May 22 (Focus: Birds of the Bays)
  • 1-2 p.m., Monday, May 24 (Focus: Nature Journaling)

Pre-register HERE.

Bay-Friendly Native Plant Tour, from 9-11 a.m., on: 

  • Tuesday, May 25

Pre-register HERE.

Questions? Contact Jared at Go to for more information and additional events.

Posted Under: Staff Blog