On Jan. 6, the Center for the Inland Bays and Sussex County received $82,250 in grant funding to begin implementation of Phase 2 of the James Farm Ecological Preserve Master Plan.
Awarded by the Outdoor Recreation, Parks & Trails Program (ORPT), the grant will support new environmental education facilities and improve the trail system, creating a more immersive natural experience for visitors while better protecting the diverse ecosystems of the Preserve.
“This grant will take the Center’s environmental education programming to the next level,” said Bob Collins, the Center’s program manager. “It will jump-start the most necessary improvements included in the master plan, allowing us to better accommodate the growing number of students who visit the Preserve.”
Located near Ocean View, the James Farm Ecological Preserve is owned by Sussex County and managed by the Center to protect and restore its ecosystems for the educational and recreational use of area residents and visitors.
It is home to the Day on the Bay environmental education program, established by the Center in the year 2000 as a partnership with the Indian River School District. Since inception, Day on the Bay has served more than 19,000 students with curriculum-aligned environmental education that teaches about the importance of protecting and restoring the Inland Bays.
The current educational facilities at the Preserve provide limited enclosed space, occasionally resulting in disruption of educational programming due to inclement weather. Upon completion of Phase 2, students will be able to enjoy a brand new, three-season education building designed to enhance their learning environment.
“Sussex County is proud to be a continued partner with the Center for the Inland Bays, and the County Council supports the Center’s efforts to heighten environmental stewardship and education through initiatives like the Day on the Bay program,” County Administrator Todd F. Lawson said.
“This grant award, along with matching County funding, and the overall master plan will go a long way toward ensuring the James Farm continues to be a critical outdoor classroom for our young people and an ecological gem for everyone to enjoy here in Sussex County.”
Phase 2 implementation will also include trail realignments to improve walkability and visitor experience, new interpretive signage to educate visitors about the Preserve’s ecosystems, permanent restroom facilities, and adequate facilities for storage and maintenance of the Preserve by staff and volunteers.
When originally developed in 1998, facilities built at the Preserve were limited and not planned to adequately accommodate Sussex County’s future population growth. As the Preserve’s popularity soared and its programs expanded, the need to plan for growth while protecting its natural areas became evident, representatives said. The community was invited to give input on the needs of visitors, and collectively envision a future for the Preserve.
The resulting Master Plan created a path forward to accommodate increased visitation while protecting the Preserve’s ecosystems, and enhancing education and outreach opportunities. It addresses the physical restoration, improvement and management of the property, when also considering emerging issues such as sea-level rise.
Implementation of the James Farm Master Plan began in the fall of 2018 with Phase 1, which included a DelDOT approved parking lot entrance, expanded parking facilities, an improved welcome area, improved trail gateways, and a multi-purpose event lawn for public recreation and outreach events. Phase 1 construction, which also received support from the ORPT program, was completed in the spring of 2019.
“On behalf of the Center’s Board of Directors and our partners in Sussex County, we are so grateful for the generous support of the ORPT program throughout this important project,” said Chris Bason, the Center’s executive director.
The Outdoor Recreation, Parks & Trails program, formerly known as the Delaware Land & Water Conservation Trust Fund (DTF), is a matching grant program administered by Delaware State Parks that assists with public park land acquisition and outdoor recreation facility development in Delaware.
The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is a non-profit organization established in 1994, and is one of 28 National Estuary Programs. With its partners, the Center works to preserve, protect and restore Delaware’s Inland Bays and their watershed.