DNREC approves grant for ‘town-hall habitat’

When Sally Boswell, education and outreach coordinator for the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, suggested to Millville Town Council members that their town hall would be the perfect place to transform into a pilot project for a “town-hall habitat,” council members were eager to get on board.

“They were really every enthused about the project,” Boswell said of the council members, including CIB volunteer and Millville Mayor Donald Minyon. “And the council approved the idea unanimously.

“That’s always a very important piece to this kind of project, is this kind of support,” Boswell explained. “Because building it is only first step. Once it’s built, you need continuing support from the town to maintain it.”

With the town firmly behind the idea of transforming the environs of town hall into an environmentally-friendly demonstration garden, Boswell’s next step was to apply to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) for grant funding for the project.

“Two people from DNREC came down last week, and I showed them the site,” Boswell told the Coastal Point on June 26. “I also took them to the Phillip C. Showell Elementary site, to show them the work done there recently.”

The Selbyville school’s new “school-yard habitat,” which was planted recently with the help of students, is one among several such projects in the Indian River School District, including just down the road from Millville Town Hall at Lord Baltimore Elementary School.

Boswell’s goal with the visit was to introduce DNREC officials to the town-hall habitat concept and garner some support for the idea based on the ongoing and growing success of the school-based initiative.

“We discussed the different opportunities we saw at Millville Town Hall for improving habitat and creating the kinds of things that could be demonstration projects, to show the public the kinds of things they can do at home, such as rain gardens and rain barrels,” Boswell said.

The response was strongly positive, she noted, but the final word on whether grant funding would be available for the project was still weeks away.

Millville officials and Boswell have eagerly been awaiting that decision and finally got their answer last week — it’s a go.

“We’re still waiting on DNREC for the release of funds,” Boswell said Wednesday, “so nothing has been done yet.”

However, Boswell is in the early planning stages for the project, with the promise of funding to come soon.

“I think we’re going to be working with Environmental Concern, which is the consulting group we worked with on the school-yard habitat,” she said. “We’ll meet at site with the person from Environmental Concerns and talk about ideas, what might be possible for us to do there.

“Of course, we have a number of ideas already about it — a whole laundry list of possibilities,” Boswell admitted.

The notions that have been floated already include rain barrels to reclaim rainfall for watering plants in the garden, an emphasis on native plants and a “rain garden” that will require little more irrigation than natural rainfall.

There has also been discussion of a natural buffer planting along the creek that winds its way through the rear of the Millville Town Hall property — designed to demonstrate, Boswell said, that buffers for such waterways can go beyond a requirement of code and become a visual asset to a property.

With that list of possibilities in mind, Boswell said, “We’ll have to look at how much money we have and what we can do with that amount of money. We will be developing a design and timeline for getting it done.”

That timeline could be very close on the horizon, though. “My sense that it will be mostly completed this fall,” Boswell said. “We’ll have to check with DNREC, of course. … But fall is an excellent time to do this type of thing.”

Throughout the process of prosing the town-hall habitat to town officials and DNREC, Boswell has put keen emphasis on the educational aspects of the project, noting how the residential scale of Millville Town Hall makes it perfect for a garden that will suggest environmentally-friendly landscaping ideas to home owners throughout the area.

“At the same time (as we’re working on design ideas) I’ll be working on developing brochures and informational materials about the different features,” she said. “so that they will be available immediately when it’s complete, for people who see what’s been done there and are interested in seeing how go about doing that themselves.”

Boswell said the materials will not only describe the plants in the garden, much as was done recently for the new Native Plant Demonstration Garden at the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, but also provide basic information on things such as where to obtain rain barrels, how to create a rain garden and Web resources for more information on the environmentally-friendly gardening concepts involved in the project.

“It truly will be a demonstration garden and people will see what they can do,” she promised.