James Farm Ecological Preserve Master Plan

James Farm Ecological Preserve Master Plan

The James Farm Ecological Preserve is an important resource for the Center and the community at large. But despite the critical nature of the Preserve, it faces challenges. When originally developed in 1998, its facilities were installed piecemeal and without foresight of Sussex County’s forthcoming growth in population. As the Preserve’s popularity increased and its programs expanded, the need to plan for increased visitation while protecting its ecosystems became evident.

So, the Center embarked on the development of a holistic plan that would address the needs of Preserve users and collectively envision its future. The Center and Sussex County sought input and ideas from key stakeholders of the Center and the Preserve, including staff, elected officials, community leaders, educators, volunteers, donors, and other community members. The resulting master plan, finalized in 2014, addresses enhancements to better serve residents and visitors of Delaware while protecting the Preserve’s ecosystems and enhancing education and outreach opportunities.

Implementation of the Master Plan Underway:

Work began at the Preserve in spring 2021 and is continuing in spring of 2024. This implementation phase focuses on enhancing the Preserve’s infrastructure to better accommodate activities associated with environmental education, restoration, research, and community recreation. The design, engineering, and permitting process for these enhancements is currently underway and construction has begun.

A three-season education building is the gem of planned improvements to the Preserve. It will be used for educational programs, volunteer trainings, intergenerational education, and community events.

The vision for the proposed infrastructure is that it be as unique and appealing as the diversity of the ecosystems of the Preserve. Every function and aesthetic, down to the signage and wayfinding system, will realize this vision. Structural designs will hold true to the agricultural heritage of the property and the region, making it a truly special place for Sussex County.

This aerial view shows that the reimagining of the campus area will be as unique and appealing as the Preserve itself. Structural designs hold true to the agricultural heritage of the property and the region, making it a truly special place for Sussex County.

Phase Two includes the following enhancements:

The Campus Area

  • Three-season environmental education building with capacity for up to 70 individuals, equipped with electricity, presentation capabilities, counter space, and sinks for lab activities.
  • ADA-accessible restroom facility.
  • Amphitheater seating for 70 individuals to serve as an outdoor classroom.
  • New maintenance building with large equipment storage and a fully-equipped workshop.
  • Habitat restoration staging area.
  • Ecotour concessionaire storage facility.
  • Improved Trail System
  • Realignment of the Red Trail to address stressors on ecosystems and create a more immersive natural experience for visitors by diverting them away from neighboring residential and commercial properties.
  • Boardwalk system extension and replacement.
  • Aesthetically and structurally integrated signage and wayfinding system.


  • New gateway signage.
  • Updated and expanded interpretive signage placed in 18 locations around the Preserve to educate users about its ecosystems and environmental processes.

Completed Projects at the Preserve:

Implementation of the Master Plan began in 2017 with Phase One, which focused on safer access and improved outdoor experiences for Preserve users. Infrastructure enhancements included:

  • A DelDOT-approved parking lot entrance and driveway to safely accommodate increased vehicle traffic.
  • Expanded parking facilities to increase parking capacity from 8 to 27 cars.
  • Designated school bus parking for safe student loading and unloading.
  • A multi-purpose event lawn to accommodate greater attendance at community events and provide open space for public recreation.


With generous support from Sussex County, the Outdoor Recreation, Parks, and Trails (ORPT) program, Community Transportation Funds, and private donations, the Center successfully secured all necessary funding and Phase One was completed in the spring of 2019.

The Center and Sussex County break ground on Phase One Construction in Fall 2018.

James Farm Master Plan Capital Campaign

To secure funding for the implementation of the Master Plan, the Center has undertaken a capital campaign. This campaign seeks state- and county-level funding, foundation grants, individual and corporate gifts, and in-kind donations of professional services, materials, and labor. The campaign’s goal is $2.8 million. If you would like to support the capital campaign, click the donate button below or contact Mark Carter, Director of Development, at mcarter@inlandbays.org