Proposed Bethany Beach pedestrian and birding pathway

Bethany Beach is looking into creating a pedestrian and bicycle pathway between 2nd Street and Central Boulevard, north of Route 26, on the former Walcek property. The project would involve creating bird-watching areas and restoring wetlands that currently include invasive phragmites.

Bethany Beach is looking to create a more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly — and nature-friendly — option for traveling along the north side of town: a pedestrian and bicycle pathway connecting Central Boulevard and 2nd Street north of Route 26, with a focus on nature, bird-watching and controlling flooding.

The Town recently acquired the 13-acre former Walcek property and an additional 2-acre adjacent parcel, and the proposed pedestrian walkway would cut across the combined 15 acres to address pedestrian and cyclist traffic in a safe manner, while also providing bird-watching opportunities and removing invasive phragmites in favor of native plants that would preserve and restore the wetlands’ ability to absorb the water that sometimes floods that section of town.

The project, discussed at the July 16 town council meeting, would likely follow the design of the pedestrian and bicycle pathway at the Bethany Beach Nature Center, with a low-profile to slightly-raised path, depending on the land elevations along the path.

The Town is looking at a $27,000 design contract that could be split between the Town’s general fund and a possible DNREC grant, and would take about three months to develop, beginning in early 2022.

“Almost two decades ago,” Town Manager Cliff Graviet noted, a proposal from then-mayor Joe McHugh suggested creating a road from Central to 2nd Street, but that “was not well-accepted,” he said, with a number of people who lived in the area on both sides of the Walcek property being concerned that putting a roadway there would create an alternative pathway for motorists who wanted to bypass Route 26 traffic.

“One of the things that came out was how beneficial it might be for pedestrians and cyclists if there were to be a pathway connecting” the two streets, he said. And with the recent acquisition of the 15 acres, which include forested areas and wetlands, Graviet said a bicycle pathway had been suggested for the property. He said he wanted to develop a plan that would consider the feasibility, cost and environmental impacts of such a project.

The tentative grant request for the study has already been submitted, he said, and has reached the second level of grant review.

“We would like to go ahead and explore possibilities of creating this pathway, what it would look like, the impact and cost,” he told the council on July 16.

Council Member Faith Denault noted that the Town has already received several letters from the public in agreement with the idea and encouraging the council to consider it, noting the benefits.

“It gives people on the north side of Route 26 an alternative,” Mayor Rosemary Hardiman said, noting a similar alternative route that already exists on the south side of Route 26. She urged Graviet to ensure that any design would accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists comfortably.

Graviet said the proposed pathway would be wider than the one in the nature center, which should address that concern, but that the project would also aim to address the “significant amount of phragmites” on the property and restore the marsh there to its natural setting.

“Phragmites isn’t conducive to being the tidal sponge we all want marshes to be,” he said.

“This is a concept we’re exploring,” he emphasized of this step in the project, “to see if it’s feasible and doable. That’s as far as we’re going right now.”

The council unanimously approved taking that step to explore the proposed project.