Kayaks destroyed by vandalism, reward offered for information
Last weekend, the kayaks stored at the James Farm Ecological Preserve on Cedar Neck Road near Ocean View were vandalized, with five being completely burned and three put in the water.
“The center has six kayaks that live down there that have always been down there, and I keep my two guide kayaks down there,” explained Lisa Daisey, owner of EcoBay Kayaking Adventures, which offers guided tours of the Indian River Bay from James Farm.
On Sunday afternoon, Daisey received a call from a nearby resident who said she had spotted kayaks floating around the bay.
“I figured there was no way they could be mine, because they are locked up on a rack system that’s there, but we figured we’d go down to check it out anyway. When we got down there, we were walking down the trail and we couldn’t see the color of my kayaks chained up in the woods. Usually, you can spot their bright colors through the woods.
“When we walked down to the water, we found three. As we were standing there, walking up to the boardwalk, I felt something under my feet and looked down, and there were the rest of them, burned to the ground. It was like a 12-foot-wide space of just melted plastic.”
The rack to which the eight kayaks had been secured with a lock had also been vandalized.
“The rack system that was there had been torn down and thrown into the woods. That’s how they released the kayaks from the rack system, by just destroying it and lighting five of them on fire and casting the other three off into the bay.”
Daisey said she believes the fire occurred in the evening hours of Jan. 4, after the farm was closed to the public.
“It had to have been in the middle of the night. The fire would’ve been grand. It singed the trees that are 25 to 28 feet above the kayaks. It had to have been a pretty big lightshow out there. It was a pretty major fire. If there wasn’t as much snow on the ground, or hadn’t been as cold as it was, it would’ve lit the whole farm on fire.”
Assistant State Fire Marshal Michael Chionchio said that his office has officially ruled the incident to be caused by arson.
“We did a scene investigation and determined it was an arson fire. Now we’re trying to apprehend those responsible,” he said. “In this particular incident, there was some evidence that we were able to locate at the scene. We’re processing that evidence now to see if we can come up with a suspect.”
Chionchio said that those found to have caused the fire would be charged with Second Degree Arson, a felony offense. He added that anyone with information regarding the incident should contact his office.
“If someone was with the person who started the fire, we’d rather have them be a witness than a co-defendant. If they have some information, if they were there and would like to come forward, that will help them out in the long run,” he said.
Daisey said she is offering a $300 reward for any information leading to the apprehension of those responsible.
“I’d like to offer a small reward if anybody knows anything about who did this. I feel like they should pay for the damage done, and work at the James Farm, put in some volunteer time there. It’d be nice if we could find out who did this.”
In total, the vandalism caused approximately $2,600 in damage, which Daisey said does not cover the cost of time and labor associated with the incident. She added that, while the kayaks owned by James Farm will be covered by insurance, hers will not.
“This was not a victimless crime. There was definitely a victim,” added Chionchio.
Bob Collins, who works as the property manager for the farm, said that in the past there has been some vandalism there, but none so damaging.
“From time to time — but I’ve worked with the center for almost two years, and anything we’ve had out there has been very minor… Never anything on this scale,” he said.
Daisey, who is going on her 10th year working at James Farm, said the incident has been very upsetting.
“You go through different emotions with something like this. You’re hurt — like, how could somebody do this? Then you’re sad that somebody would be this malicious, that they’re steered to do something this wrong, or had disregard for someone else’s property.”
She added that James Farm, a 150-acre plot of land donated to Sussex County by Mary Lighthipe — a local woman who wanted the land to be used for environmental education — is a local treasure.
“The whole farm was donated to be used by the public for educational and recreational purposes. It was given to the people, and people do this... The majority of the people that come there love and take care of it. Everybody that brings their dogs there, visits in the summertime, are thankful to have a place like this.”
Sally Boswell, education and outreach coordinator for the Center for the Inland Bays, said that the farm has become a hugely popular resource in the community, for locals and visitors alike.
“I really think it’s a special place and an amazing thing that Mary had this incredible prescient vision of what it could be for people who live in Sussex County,” she said. “Back when she donated it, Cedar Neck was very rural. Now, James Farm is like an island of open space in a part of the county that’s very developed now.
“It’s a story that we like to tell, those kinds of gifts… Land is so irreplaceable… A gift like that is almost priceless.”
According to Collins, every year, James Farm has approximately 10,000 visitors.
“We have a lot of people who truly love the James Farm. I’m one of them, too. It’s a shame that somebody did this, whether they intended to be malicious or if it was something that got out of hand. Anytime something like this happens, you worry that maybe one day the James Farm won’t always be accessible to everybody,” he said.
“If you see some suspicious activity, please report it. It’s there for everybody to enjoy and, hopefully, we catch everybody who did this and set an example.”
“It’s certainly a place where we want people to feel safe and enjoy. We certainly don’t want people to be ruining it for other people,“ added Boswell. “The people who visit the farm and care about it can help be the eyes and ears.”
Daisey said she understands that sometimes people do not make the best decisions, but she hopes that those in the community who may have information regarding the incident will step forward and help keep James Farm a safe place for everyone to enjoy.
“If it was kids, I know kids get in trouble and do some things sometimes. I was no angel when I was a kid, growing up. But you learn by your mistakes. That’s why I would like to know who did this, so they know what they did was wrong and that you can’t get away with doing something like this.
“If they are caught, they need to pay for what they’ve done and have volunteer hours at the farm to take care of it. Such a great place like that doesn’t come to be on its own — people take care of it,” she said. “It was wrong, and their actions have impacted a lot of lives. The James Farm is a beautiful place for everybody to enjoy.”
Anyone wishing to give information regarding the incident should call the Office of the State Fire Marshal at (800) TIP-3333 or (302) 856-5600. Daisey may also be contacted with information, at (302) 841-2722.