Sara Besche
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Dog Days of Summer at James Farm Ecological Preserve

By Andrew Rogan, in All Communities

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The months of July and August are often described as the “Dog Days of Summer.” Here at the beach it’s hot, the busy, tourist season is in full swing, and it’s often hard to tell whether life is slowing down or speeding up.

However, along the backroads of Ocean View nestled against the Indian River Bay is an oasis where time is irrelevant. An (almost) “secret spot” where Osprey soar through the sky, the quiet waters of the bay “shwoosh” upon a sandy cove, and the joyful barks of man’s best friend act as the pulse of life. The term ‘Dog Days of Summer’ could not be more relevant than at the James Farm Ecological Preserve.

I stumbled upon James Farm as my fiancée and I were looking for a new place to take our two dogs. A friend suggested the preserve noting it as “a secluded place that is the ultimate dog beach.” We were not disappointed. Toward the end of Cedar Neck Rd (roughly a five minute drive from downtown Bethany) a small parking lot marked the 150-acre parcel of land that hundreds of years ago was part of a land grant from Charles, the Lord Baron of Baltimore. During our first visit Cooper and Teddy (our dogs) pulled us down the numerous trails that ranged from open fields filled with wildflowers, tall stands of hardwoods, silent salt marshes (the dogs particularly loved the “wonderful” smells here), and finally to Pasture Point Cove.

Pasture Point Cove is the most visited section of James Farm and for good reason. Its wide sandy beach is perfect for sunbathers who have their four-legged family members in tow. Although a leash is required, we found dog owners running through the shallows with the same excitement as their furry companions or taking a breather together from Frisbee or ball in the shade of an umbrella.  

A few months later we also took our young nieces to check out the preserve and Pasture Point (of course the dogs came too). They LOVED it! The shallow waters are not only a break from the ocean waves but also offer the opportunity to see small fish dart through the shallows; horseshoe crabs disguise themselves below the water, and pontoon boats crabbing and clamming just offshore.

When the land now known as the James Farm Ecological Preserve was donated to Sussex County by Mary Lighthipe in 1992 it was her wish that it become a place for “environmental education and recreational activities.” Today it has certainly lived up to her dream. Walking among the various trails there are signs pointing out the area’s natural surroundings. Reaching the cove, visitors have the ability to rent kayaks and SUP’s, and throughout the year over 1,000 seventh and eighth graders converge on the preserve for their class field trips.

Perhaps it’s the idea of James Farm being a “secret spot,” maybe it’s the joy of witnessing both dogs and owners at play along the beach, or maybe it’s just watching the sunset over the Indian River Bay. Whatever it is, the experiences offered at James Farm are a cant miss, not to mention its great place to embrace the Dog Days of Summer (and every other season).

 

Discover the Trails of Delaware: Thompson Island

By Andrew Rogan, in All Communities

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Que Pasa? I’m great at the moment but, no, I mean Que Pasa? The restaurant in Dewey Beach where you can devour tacos and margaritas. Have you been there? If so you probably have enjoyed an amazing meal while taking in the equally tantalizing views of Rehoboth Bay. Kiteboarders, sailboats, and pontoon boats casually drift across the sunset as you sip your frozen drink from a salted rim. I have enjoyed this view more times than I care to tell, however, it was not until recently that my focus fell upon a group of trees in the distance – a piece of land that seemingly stands alone in the bays shallow waters. My sights were focusing on Thompson Island, a location I had only visited once as a kid when I beached my small sailboat on its shoreline.

I finished off my last taco, ordered another margarita, and committed myself to finding a way to reach Thompson Island. Not surprisingly, Google had an answer. Within a few minutes of searching the web, I uncovered a .7 mile trail maintained by Delaware Seashore State Park that was right off of Route One! I couldn’t believe it, how had I never noticed this trail before? Hidden and off the beaten path, the trail lies in the back of Spring Lake, a community located on the forgotten mile between Dewey and Rehoboth.

As I started down the trail, the transformation of the surrounding nature was incredible. Starting in a residential community and evolving into a forest of giant hardwoods, a quiet small marsh and then tall whispering loblolly pine trees; Blue Heron, Osprey, and a small heard of deer were all sited during the .7 mile trail out. From there I reached the lookout platform, which provided a sweeping view of the 68-acre Peninsula of Thompson Island and the Rehoboth Bay. Despite being distracted by the beauty of my new surroundings, I spotted a small sign reading “trail end,” which put a damper on the suggestion of a small path leading to the forgotten Island itself.

Now, I do my best to be a law abiding citizen and with that being said if I were to try to imagine what someone would experience down such a restricted path, it would probably include the following…

After the “trail end” sign a narrow muddy trail would weave between tall reeds with occasional views of the Lewes/Rehoboth Canal. Eventually, the reeds would dissipate and the firm ground of Thompson Island would be beneath my feet. Once there I could only assume to find old, scarcely used trails that wind their way around the island. The trail would lead through tall pine trees, across a rolling landscape and to a secluded beach with nesting osprey. Upon finding myself on that secluded beach, looking back at the sandy bluffs the island would look much as it did hundreds of years ago…

Between 3000 BC to 1600 AD relatives of the Nanticoke Indians used Thompson Island as a campsite. During that time they would hunt, fish, and gather oysters. And just as they lived on the island, so they died on the island, burying their dead in communal graves. Since then, the island was at one point cultivated, used as a White Pine plantation, and more recently used as hunting grounds for deer.

Concluding my imaginary adventure to the island and turning away from the “trail end” sign, I weave my way back down the trail toward my car. Taking a moment to enjoy one last incredible view, I would be struck by the thought that Dewey Beach and Route One are less than a mile away, yet Thompson Island stands largely unchanged and alone –  frozen in a time from long since past.

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Discover the Trails of Delaware: Junction and Breakwater Trail

By Andrew Rogan, in All Communities

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We used to leap from railroad tie to railroad tie, balance for a few paces on the rails themselves, and attempt to push each other off the decaying bridges and into the water below. Now the railroad ties are gone and a crushed stone path known as the Junction and Breakwater Trail lies in its place. The Breakwater Trail offers visitor’s fresh air and exercise, without the hassle of traffic and parking meters. Hidden behind the various businesses on Route One, the wide path weaves its way through fields, forest, and costal marshes, exemplifying an element of the intangible aspects of life that only the outdoors can provide. Perhaps most notably, the Breakwater Trail allows visitors to enjoy the different landscapes that Sussex County has to offer, while providing safe passage between two of Delaware’s most popular beach communities.

Over 100 years ago, beach-goers traveled on the Junction and Breakwater section of the Penn Central Rail Line to reach the Methodist resort camp at Rehoboth Beach. Although, you can no longer “hear the train a comin’, rollin’ ’round the bend,” the ringing of bike bells, patter of runners steps, and the passing conversation of hikers now serve as a pleasing soundtrack to your adventure. Nonetheless, although no longer by rail, visitors utilize the trail for the same purpose, to travel between the beach communities of Rehoboth and Lewes. Locals will attest that by using the trail, traffic, the search for a parking spot, and the cost of parking meters are no longer a concern.

Personally, the Breakwater Trail has served as a local oasis throughout my life. A few years ago, as my Dad was receiving chemotherapy, I found myself running down the trail in the cold winter months. Sheltered from the wind and surrounded by the white canopy of trees after snowfall, it was a peaceful setting and a welcome reminder of the beautiful things in life. During the summer months, the shade of the surrounding forest offered solace from the heat, while the laughter and happy conversations from other trail visitors helped me “chill out” and not take myself too seriously. In the fall and spring, during a long stretch of radically different schedules my fiancée, our dogs, and I had the chance to fully enjoy each other’s company as well as the stretching view of Cape Henlopen’s saltwater marsh and WWII observation towers.

The trail has a number of access points. For those starting in Lewes, parking at Cape Henlopen High School and crossing Kings Highway offers trail access and free parking (not to mention the opportunity to view a number of Schell Brothers communities and homes). There are also two convenient access points just off of Route One. At the end of Wolf Neck Road there is a gravel parking lot that not only offers access to the trail but also a water fountain and restrooms. There is also parking behind the Tanger Outlets, allowing for tax-free shopping, parking, and trail access. Finally, on the Rehoboth end of the trail there are no specific designated parking locations, however, the trail entrance can be found on Hebron Rd.

Today the Breakwater Trail is about five miles long one way. However, due to the popularity and the foot traffic that the trail has received, plans for expansion are currently in place. Parallel to another railroad bed, the trail will eventually connect Lewes and Georgetown (stay tuned for details!). Until then, be sure to experience this unique trail that not only allows you safe passage between the resort communities of Lewes and Rehoboth but also allows you to experience the different landscapes of Sussex County.

Discover the Trails of Delaware

By Andrew Rogan, in All Communities

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Here in Southern Delaware, people move to get away from their offices, to leave the hustle and bustle of their morning commute behind, to enjoy lower taxes, and to put the stresses of life aside. They come to get outside, to wiggle their toes in the sand, to swing their driver on a par five, and to casually walk from one quaint beach shop to the next. However, few know the true array of adventure, history, and beauty that waits just around each curve of Delaware’s coastline.

Back in ’91 when my parents first moved to Delaware the lead story in the local paper was about a loose pig. Coming from Long Island, they couldn’t help but think, “Where the hell did we move too?!” The only restaurant open year round seemed to be Grottos Pizza, you couldn’t find decent shopping closer than the Christiana Mall, and the term ‘Y’all’ wasn’t slang it was common tongue. However, my Dad made his living on the water and so it came to be that my brothers and I were raised in Sussex County.

I must say that we are proud and happy to have been raised in a place where thousands flock to each year to vacation.   We grew up as many kids do, exploring and finding adventures wherever we could. Often our outdoor capers were just a step off the beaten path, others off a small side street…and a few in places we probably didn’t belong. As a result, we discovered many of the most extraordinary areas that the average visitor (and even many locals) would never dream of finding.

Sure people can find the quality restaurants we now have, or the tax free shopping at the outlets; however, my goal in writing “Discover the Trails of Delaware” is to share these fascinating locations and their stories so that y’all have the opportunity to experience the thrill of adventure, history, and beauty that comes from exploring and living near the Beaches of Delaware. It is my hope that as you have a chance to explore each location, you’ll find the same pride and happiness that I and so many others treasure with pride.

Stay tuned for the next installment of “Discover Delaware Trails” as I take you on an adventure along the Junction & Breakwater Trail!