$200,000 Longwood Foundation Grant to Help Transform the James Farm Ecological Preserve  

Rehoboth Beach, Del. – The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is thrilled to announce the recent award of a $200,000 grant from the Longwood Foundation, which will bring the Center one step closer to creating a regionally significant environmental education experience at the James Farm Ecological Preserve.

The reimagining of the Campus area will be as unique and appealing as the natural wonder of the Preserve itself. Illustration by David D. Quillin.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Longwood trustees for realizing the importance of the James Farm and choosing to support it at such a high level,” said Chris Bason, the Center’s Executive Director. “Their rigorous application process challenged us to think critically about the potential impact of our efforts and how best to maximize that impact for the benefit of our community. We and our fellow nonprofits are fortunate to have a foundation like Longwood investing so significantly in the quality of life and future of Delaware.”

A transformation of the 150-acre nature preserve near Ocean View has been years in the making. Additional planned upgrades include realigning the existing trail system to both adapt to sea level rise and create a more naturally immersive visitor experience, installing interpretive signs to educate visitors about the Preserve’s ecosystems and history and new maintenance facilities that will provide storage and workshop space to better care for the Preserve and support the Center’s environmental restoration efforts watershed-wide.

This additional funding from Longwood will jump start the next round of improvements, which will expand environmental education opportunities for people of all ages and abilities, support growing visitation to the Preserve and allow the Center to better fulfill its mission through outreach to a wider, more diverse audience.

The project is a joint effort between the Center and Sussex County, with the County committing nearly $300,000 toward the improvements. They, along with George & Lynch, also contributed in-kind services for the ADA-compliant restroom recently installed at the Preserve. The property is owned by Sussex County and managed by the Center.

Work on the education building (pictured) and maintenance facilities will begin early next year with full project completion anticipated in later summer 2022. Illustration by David D. Quillin.

Planned improvements are part of the second phase of the Center’s Master Plan for the Preserve, which also includes the construction of a three-season education building that will bolster environmental learning experiences and offer shelter from the elements.

The Master Plan for the Preserve was developed with collective input from stakeholders, residents and visitors in an effort to address needs related to the physical restoration and management of the property, while also considering emerging issues such as sea level rise.

When the Preserve was initially developed in 1998, facilities were not built to accommodate the rapid population growth Sussex County is undergoing. With only primitive shelter and facilities, disruptions to outdoor learning experiences are unavoidable when bad weather hits.

In 2020, as more people found themselves seeking solace in the outdoors, the Preserve received almost 40,000 unique visits, marking a nearly 300% increase from 2012 visitation estimates. Over the past five years, more and more visitors have been learning about the unique offerings found along the banks of Indian River Bay. With its natural collection of diverse coastal ecosystems like freshwater wetlands, salt marshes and maritime forests, the Preserve showcases the magnificent beauty of the Delmarva Peninsula and supports osprey, shorebirds, horseshoe crabs and a plethora of other wildlife.

The Preserve’s brand new restroom facility arriving on site. Installation was supported by in-kind services from Sussex County and George & Lynch.

The Preserve also offers critical environmental education to underserved local students. The “Day on the Bay” program, which has served more than 19,000 students with fully immersive, curriculum-aligned STEM education since it was established 20 years ago, will benefit tremendously from the planned improvements. The new education building will not only allow for more students and continued programming in inclement weather, but will also create an immersive learning experience so that students can foster a meaningful connection with the outdoors.

Fundraising for the project continues through the Lessons in Nature capital campaign. A portion of proceeds from the Center’s annual Decked Out! fundraiser on September 30, 2021, at Big Chill Beach Club will support the planned improvements at the Preserve. Those interested in supporting the project are encouraged to contact the Center.

Implementation of the first phase of the James Farm Master Plan began in fall 2018 and included expanded parking facilities to increase capacity while safely accommodating increased vehicle and pedestrian traffic, designated school bus parking for safe student transport and a multi-purpose event lawn for open space recreation and community events.

The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is a nonprofit organization established in 1994, and is one of 28 National Estuary Programs. With its many partners, the Center works to preserve, protect and restore Delaware’s Inland Bays and their watershed.

For more information or to schedule an interview with Center staff at the Preserve, contact Development Coordinator Anna Short at 302-226-8105 ext. 702 or ashort@inlandbays.org.