Bay Journal

The Nanticoke River

Partnership preserves corridor’s wild beauty, heritage

  • By Joel Dunn on September 08, 2013
A canoeist explores the wetland edges of Gales Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke River. (Dave Harp) Autumn’s glory is reflected in Marshyhope Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke River. (Dave Harp)

If you are looking for a great tidal river to paddle, choose the Nanticoke. It’s exceptional for two reasons.

First, along its 64-mile trek from Sussex County, DE, to the Chesapeake in Maryland, it passes through miles and miles of conserved forests and wetlands that provide rich habitat for the region’s plants and animals, including some of the Delmarva Peninsula’s rarest. It’s beautiful tidewater country.

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and Maryland and Delaware state trails all share the river. The trails offer recreational opportunities to boaters who can explore the region’s natural beauty and history, launching from state parks and town ramps along the way. There are trips for both experienced paddlers looking to challenge their skill and endurance and families out for a day. The trails and the conserved lands draw people and provide an economic boost to the region’s towns.

Second, the river is a model for conservation and conservation partnerships that are the result of groups working with natural resource leaders in state and federal agencies for more than a decade to realize a vision of a green corridor along the Nanticoke. Together, they have successfully partnered with lumber companies and other landowners and with philanthropic funders to buy property and easements to protect thousands of acres of the woods and wetlands.

One of my favorite natural resource conservation concepts comes from Aldo Leopold, that conservation is a state of harmony between people and the land. Leopold developed an ecologically based land ethic and wrote “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.” This idea is a guiding light for Chesapeake Conservancy’s work to create a network of conserved landscapes and special places and to connect people to their natural environment.

Interestingly, Leopold also noted that historical events can be interpreted as biotic interactions between people and the land. Let’s take Smith’s exploration of the Chesapeake Bay landscape in 1608. He wrote that the Chesapeake “is a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places known, for large and pleasant navigable rivers, heaven and Earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.” Smith’s experience on the Chesapeake gave him an appreciation for our amazing ecosystem, particularly our great rivers.

These rivers and Smith’s trail now form the Chesapeake Conservancy’s framework for conservation. Our Nanticoke River Conservation Corridor project is an example.

This is one of the few places where one can see the world as Smith saw it 400 years ago. Unique plant communities found here include Atlantic white cedar swamps and xeric sand ridge forests, as well as globally rare plant and animal species, including Harper’s beakrush, Parker’s pipewort and box huckleberry.

Despite decades of work, gaps in protection still threaten the corridor’s integrity. The Conservancy is working with partners to create an unbroken, scenic river corridor from Seaford, DE, to Vienna, MD, to preserve this haven of wildlife, plants and history for generations to come. We are engaging communities and employing innovative technology to advance our work. Similar work is taking place on the James, Rappahannock and Susquehanna rivers.

Find a way to explore the Nanticoke. Visit the towns, paddle the river and learn about the river’s rich history and stories. You’ll find a beautiful river and a fine example of how conservation, built on partnerships and community involvement, add to a region’s beauty and value.

Joel Dunn is the executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy. Its mission is to conserve the Bay’s historically, culturally and ecologically significant landscapes and public access to them.

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About Joel Dunn
Joel Dunn is the executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy.
Read more articles by Joel Dunn

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