Residents get an update on Assawoman Canal Trail

Last week, area residents whose properties will be directly impacted by the future Assawoman Canal Trail project had the opportunity to hear from Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) officials about the upcoming construction.

The trail is intended for pedestrians and bicyclists only and will be open from 8 a.m. to sunset, seven days a week.

Bob Ehemann, an outdoor recreation planner for DNREC, spoke to adjacent property owners at Ocean View Town Hall regarding the project.

Ehemann noted that the canal was built by the Army Corps of Engineers, to provide navigation to move goods from Florida to Maine as part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The 3.9-mile section in Delaware was dug in the 1800s by Italian immigrants and completed by 1891, but was abandoned in 1905.

The Corps is expected to give the canal — which physically links three municipalities and six communities who all share a boundary with the canal lands — to the State. Ehemann said that local officials had requested a trail in 2008. Funding for the concept plan was provided by the Delaware Land & Water Conservation Trust Fund.

Ehemann said that the State will create a vegetative buffer on either side of the trail. The buffer will offer residents privacy, as well as help prevent potential future erosion.

Those in attendance at the meeting were provided with lists of native vegetative plants they could purchase if they would like to enhance the buffer created by the State.

“We’re going to work on a cross-section of vegetation on our side, but we’re saying if you want to expand it, all of these are very low-maintenance plants to use.”

There will be signage along the trail, requesting that users respect the private property the trail will run along.

“This is a very unique property for us to manage,” he said. “This is a very different park setting for us.”

Ehemann said the project would comprise a sustainable 8-foot-wide meandering trail, with a uniform natural crushed stone surface. A 20-foot buffer from the water would also be provided on both sides of the trail, with an additional 20 feet in between it and where the trail would be located.

The trail would be accessible via Elliott Avenue and Central Avenue and potentially Osprey Lane. Additionally, there will be a small parking area off of Town Road, behind Bethany Beach Surf Shop’s warehouse location in Ocean View.

“Trail access points are very important,” Ehemann said.

Addressing enforcement concerns, Capt. Steve Savage of DNREC’s enforcement arm emphasized that his department and the Ocean View Police Department (OVPD) already have a working relationship.

“I think we’re prepared to coordinate any enforcement efforts we may need down there,” he said.

“I personally don’t anticipate any major issues,” said OVPD Chief Ken McLaughlin.

Savage stated that OVPD will respond to 911 calls due to their proximity to trail and will advise State Parks enforcement about all complaints to which they respond.

McLaughlin said the only concern he would have for the trail would be for emergency vehicle access; however, as a member of the Millville Volunteer Fire Company, he said the department already has plans in place should an incident occur.

“If it is a minor call, like a dog off its leash, we don’t expect OVPD to come out,” he said, adding that if someone is need of emergent medical care, either the OVPD or the local fire departments will respond, depending on who is closer.

A park-watch program will also be set up, in which multiple volunteers will be trained to help visitors along the trail, whether they need directions or general information.

“We train them and give them all the information we can about the park,” he said, noting that the volunteers could be fishermen, bird-watchers or cyclists. “When they come out to enjoy the trail, they’re also volunteers for us. They act as our ambassadors and liaisons.”

Savage said there are only 20 park rangers throughout the state, and park-watch volunteers help tremendously.

“If we can focus our efforts where we know we’re having issues… It helps us out. That’s where extra sets of eyes and ears help us.”

Phase I of the project is expected to be completed this fall. For the future Phase II of the project, the State plans to look at connecting the trail to south of Kent Avenue, connecting to Blackgum Road into South Bethany.

To learn more about the trail, visit