County prepares for arrival of Smith’s shallop

Capt. John Smith and friends sailed their 30-foot “shallop” (single-mast skiff) into Sussex County waters just shy of 400 years ago, all the way up the Nanticoke River to what is now Phillip’s Landing in Seaford.

Smith’s group would eventually explore 1,700 miles of local waterway, document hundreds of Native American villages and create some very detailed maps, searching for a northwest passage. Oh, and they would establish the first permanent British settlement in the New World — Jamestown, Va.

Many people consider Smith’s expedition at least as significant as Lewis and Clark’s westward trek. And Sussex County Council heard from one of them, Conservation Fund’s Joel Dunn, at the May 9 council meeting.

Dunn and others are pushing for the creation of a National Historic Water Trail. They have support from Maryland leadership, and Delaware’s U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), and Dunn asked council to consider drafting a supporting resolution as well.

He said there was some National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) funding available for some very nifty technology along the “trail.”

Other historic trails get podium-style markers — the water trail would get high-tech buoys. According to Dunn, the buoys would be able to stream data to handheld devices, like cell phones and PDAs, providing boaters with historical information.

Trail-followers will be able to bring up measurements taken by Smith’s crew and compare them to modern data (or, just find the best places to take out or put in their boats).

“This should bring people from all around the country to learn about this region,” Dunn anticipated. “This area is just packed with history.”

He also noted canoeing and kayaking as some of the fastest-growing recreational activities of the times, and suggested the water trail could be incorporated as part of a regional conservation plan that increased public awareness of local waterways and riparian (along the banks) areas

Smith enthusiasts had done some research and rebuilt his shallop, Dunn said – they planned to reenact his expedition, and he advised council that they’d be making a stop in southwestern Sussex in 2007.