Public input requested Friday for Assawoman Canal Trail plan


After two years of planning, the Assawoman Canal Trail Concept Plan is ready for another round of public discussion.

A committee of local citizens and officials partnered with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) in early 2009 to gauge public interest and develop plans for a pedestrian and bike path along the Assawoman Canal.

Initial response was positive, so the group developed and released the Assawoman Canal Trail Concept Plan in June, which is now subject to public review and comment.

A public meeting is scheduled to discuss the plan Friday, Sept. 30, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s fire hall.

The original concept was “driven by the local communities,” said Bob Ehemann, outdoor planner with DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation.

A series of open houses in 2009 compiled ideas from the public, and this Friday’s meeting will close the loop on the whole planning process, Ehemann said. Citizens can review the concept and share their opinions once more.

The next project phase would be engineering and design.

“This is different to how we usually work,” said Ehemann. “When we own a property, our neighbors are generally a distance away. This is a linear corridor that is only 210 feet wide, adjacent to property owners.”

The Assawoman Canal is 3.9 miles long. The State of Delaware owns property extending 105 feet from each side of the waterway’s center. The canal is generally 90 feet wide, so the surrounding land is approximately 30 feet wide on each side of the canal.

Such proximity is cause for sensitivity in planning trail development.

The public submitted comments, most of which were in favor of a recreational walking and bike trail. The Concept Plan listed comments from the community questionnaire:

“We need these walkable/bikable and boatable connections,” one resident wrote. “Look at Central Avenue: you would never stroll or walk with your children down that corridor. There are few opportunities to make livable improvements to our area and this is a major opportunity.”

The majority of concerns came from property owners adjacent to the canal.

“Any buffer placed between our home and the canal would obstruct our view,” wrote one citizen. “We are also concerned with potential of increased crime with allowing people access to our rear door so easily.”

“Privacy is going to be a concern; there’s no way around this,” Ehemann said. “But, generally, it has been a positive planning process, where we’ve had many opportunities for the community to be engaged.”

If the trails are not built, there may be no other development planned for the land. Ehemann said the narrow strip of land does not lend itself to be anything but a pathway.

“It’s an opportunity for the public to weigh in one last time before we finalize the concept plan,” Ehemann said of the Sept. 30 meeting.

The working group for the project includes community leaders from Ocean View, Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Sea Colony, Waterside, Bahamas Beach Cottages and Salt Pond, as well as the Delaware Department of Transportation and the Center for the Inland Bays, with resource assessment and evaluation from the Division of Parks and Recreation. The public can continue contacting them into the future with questions and comments.

Citizens of Bethany Beach are also being invited to a public hearing the town is holding to hear comment on the Assawoman Canal Trail Concept Plan, at 10 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 17, at Bethany Beach Town Hall.

The entire concept plan can be found online by those interested at www.dnrec.delaware.gov/parks/Information/Pages/Assawoman-Canal-Trail-Con....