Sussex County is rich in natural resources. Singular features within its 938 square miles include the ecologically diverse and scenic Nanticoke River, the 50 square mile Cypress Swamp and 25 miles of spectacular coastline. Sussex County contains numerous large blocks of contiguous forest lands, agricultural fields and some of the most beautiful watersheds in the mid-Atlantic region. However, many of these same resources are also some of the state’s most threatened.
In December 2001, the Sussex County Land Trust (SCLT) was formed to help protect these important resources. SCLT is a nonprofit conservation organization, dedicated to protecting natural, cultural, agricultural and recreational resources through land preservation, stewardship and education for today and tomorrow.
With two seats on the Board, a unique public – private partnership between Sussex County Council and the land trust has evolved. Over the course of the past two decades, SCLT has partnered with the Council, the State and non-profit conservations agencies on numerous projects and has raised in excess of $4 million in private funds and to leverage the protection of more than 6,000 acres of land.
Chronological History of Acquisitions, Easements & Major Events
- December 2002 to February 2003: State of Delaware Department of Agriculture Foundation Matching Grants Program Round 8: $300,000 raised by SCLT, matched by SCC, matched by State and Federal programs, leveraging $1.8M, preserving 802 acres in Sussex County.
- March 2003: Partnership with TNC on Oyster Rocks Road whereby SCLT holds fee simple title to 43 acres along the Great Marsh. TNC holds a conservation easement on the property.
- June 2003: Bayside Conservation Easement approved by US Army Corps for SCLT to hold easement on approximately 280 acres of wetlands along Drum Creek in the Assawoman Bay area of the inland bays.
- March 2004: Sussex County Council declares March “Land Preservation Month in Sussex County”
- March 19, 2004: Race for Open Space 5K at Junction and Breakwater Trail and Inaugural Ball, SCLT presented with a check for $50,000 by Caldera Properties for Wolfe House renovations.
- March 19, 2004: Announcement by Secretary of DNREC, John Hughes, of partnership between State of DE and SCLT to renovate the Wolfe House, a historic home situated at the beginning of Junction & Breakwater Trailhead.
- April 2004: Partnership announced with TNC on Ponder Tract -908 acres of one of the largest forested areas remaining on the Delmarva Peninsula. The SCLT Board agreed to pledge $1M, of which $250,000 was from private funds and $750,000 was from Sussex County Open Space Funds.
- May 2004: Peninsula Conservation Easement approved by US Army Corps - SCLT to hold easement on approx. 230 acres of wetlands along the inland bays.
- June 2004: State of Delaware Department of Agriculture Foundation Matching Grants Program, Round 9: $200,000 raised by Sussex County Council, matched by State and Federal programs, preserving 443 acres in Sussex County.
- June 30, 2004: $1.5M SCLT pledge to partner with State of Delaware to purchase four parcels from Delaware Wildlands, totaling approximately 650 acres. (Later this pledge of $1.5M was asked to be transferred by the State to the Tunnell Tract. SCLT is still recognized as being instrumental in securing these lands for preservation.)
- February 2005: State of Delaware Department of Agriculture Foundation Matching Grants Program, Round 10: $125,000 raised by SCLT, matched by SCC, matched by State and Federal programs, preserving 502 acres in Sussex County.
- March 19, 2005: Race for Open Space & April 16, 2005 Land Trust Ball, raising $120,000 of private funds of which the net proceeds of $75,000 was used to benefit conservation programs in Sussex County.
- December 2005: The Cannon Tract, totaling 37 acres of tilled ground, together with upland forest and wetlands along Pepper Creek, approved for purchase for $1.3M, using SC Open Space funds.
- February 2006: State of Delaware Department of Agriculture Foundation Matching Grants Program, Round 11: $350,000 raised by SCLT private funds, matched by SC Open Space funds, matched by State and Federal programs, leveraging $1.1M, preserving 500 acres in Sussex County, over and above the Ag Foundation purchases in Sussex that year.
- December 2006: Partnership with the State of Delaware, The Conservation Fund and Sussex County to preserve Tunnell Tract $1.5M to be paid in three $500,000 installments. Northeast of Redden State Forest and Southwest of Milton, this contiguous parcel to already protected lands totals 755 acres.
- January 2007: Partnership with The Nature Conservancy to purchase the conservation easement on The Burton Tract, 150 acres located on Hudson and Carpenter Road using $428,000 of SC Open Space funds.
- May 2007: State of Delaware Department of Agriculture Foundation Matching Grants Program, Round 12: $105,000 raised by SCLT, $300,000 pledged by SCC, matched by State and Federal programs, leveraging $1.1M, preserving 214 acres in Sussex County, over and above the Ag Foundation purchases in Sussex that year.
- September 2008: The Cannon Masten Property, on RT #30 (Atlanta Road) between Seaford and Bridgeville. The property was purchased with $500,000 in private funds ($362,500 cash and $125,000 in seller’s financing) and $225,000 in County pledged funds. Constructed in 1727, this structure is significant to the heritage of Sussex County as it is one of the oldest surviving homes and one of the only extant brick homes in Delaware from the eighteenth century. It sits on 59 acres with 37 tillable and 22 acres of woods and wetlands.
- July 2009: State of Delaware Department of Agriculture Foundation Matching Grants Program, Round 14: $22,934.10 raised by SCLT, $300,000 pledged by SCC, matched by State and Federal programs, preserving 211 acres in Sussex County, over and above the Ag Foundation purchases in Sussex that year.
- August 2009: Middleford North Preserve in Nanticoke Watershed partnership with County and The Nature Conservancy
- 2009 to 2017: Exploring acquisition of a parcel of land in the middle of Sussex County for a passive natural park along the proposed Lewes to Georgetown Rail Trail. Secure sewer service for the Wolfe House. Activities of Trust remained relatively dormant due to lack of funding streams for acquisitions.
- December 2018: Stephen P. Hudson Park was purchased for open space purposes and is situated along the Georgetown and Lewes trail. Property will provide passive recreation and trailhead facilities. 30 acres of tillable agricultural fields with a wooded border and stream.
- April 2021: Nanticoke Crossing Park acquired. Located on the south side of the Nanticoke River, opposite Woodland, about 4 miles west of Seaford, this 41-acre property includes 29 acres of a mixed hardwood-pine forest, 12 acres of open area with large canopy trees, and 1,900 feet of meandering shoreline with healthy, freshwater tidal, wetland plants. Additionally, it contains direct access to the river by means of an old lagoon that will be revitalized for public use. Purchased from Absher Farms LLC, Nanticoke Crossing Park features a rolling topography overlooking the beautiful Nanticoke River. This partnership marks a successful landmark collaboration by inter-governmental and non-profit organizations to preserve land in Western Sussex County for conservation and recreational use. The opportunity to protect this site was presented to the SCLT by the Chesapeake Conservancy, a non-profit with the mission of conserving and restoring Chesapeake landscapes and connecting everyone to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Chesapeake Conservancy, in partnership with the Delaware-based Mt. Cuba Center, assists local and state entities by facilitating funding and negotiations for protection projects in the region. This marks a successful landmark collaboration by inter-governmental and non-profit organizations to preserve land in Western Sussex County to be protected for conservation and recreational use.
- Oct 2022: Hopkins Preserve acquired. Sussex County acquired the property with SCLT holding the conservation easement. SCLT will undertake ecological restoration and develop public access to the property for hiking and biking. SCLT will manage the Preserve. The property, of about 50-acre and located directly adjacent to the Lewes-Georgetown Trail on Sweetbriar Road, will feature an 11-acre forest, meadows, a pond, wetlands, trails, a gathering space, a parking lot and restrooms when completed, according to the plan.
- December 2022: Gills Neck Road trail acquired. This property encompasses a small section of the Henlopen Junction Breakwater Trail situated between Gills Neck Road and Kings Highway in Lewes and was donated to the Sussex County Land Trust by Jack Lingo Asset Management. This section of the trail will be managed and maintained by the Trust for the benefit of the public and trail enthusiasts.