State unveils extensive trails initiative

TRAILS INITIATIVES

Eight high-priority projects in the Cape Region

By Ron MacArthur | May 22, 2012
Cape Gazette May 22
Photo by: Ron MacArthur During a May 17 workshop, Lewes Deputy Mayor Ted Becker listens as DelDOT consultant John Giangrant explains the Showfield extension of the Junction and Breakwater Trail.

Lewes — The First State Trails and Pathways Initiative is the most extensive bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure network of its kind ever planned by Delaware officials. The plan includes 25 new trails or trail extensions throughout the state, including eight priority projects in Sussex County.

The General Assembly allocated $7 million in fiscal 2012 and another $13 million is included in the proposed fiscal 2013 budget – $10 million through Delaware Department of Transportation and $3 million through the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Local projects on the priority connection list include the Showfield extension of the Junction and Breakwater Trail from Gills Neck Road to Freeman Highway to Lewes and the first phase of the Georgetown-to-Lewes rail trail from the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal to Savannah Road. Plans call for work to begin this year on the two projects.

As part of the Trails and Pathways plan within state parks, DNREC has a list of nine priority projects to be completed within the next six years. Sussex County projects include an extension of a trail linking Gordons Pond Trail to the campground in Cape Henlopen State Park; an Assawoman canal trail to link Ocean View, Bethany Beach and South Bethany; and completion of a section of the Loblolly Trail in Trap Pond State Park near Laurel.

Other Sussex County in the plan are: Fred Hudson Road pathway near Bethany Beach; Thompson Island Trail; and Delaware Seashore State Park connector trail from Route 1 to Fred Hudson Road.

State officials sponsored three workshops offering residents a chance to view the plans and offer comments. Jim Westhoff, DelDOT spokesman, said the Lewes workshop was the most attended with more than 75 people stopping by Lewes City Hall May 17.

Susan Moerschel of DNREC's Division of Parks and Recreation, who has been an advocate for trails and greenways for decades, said several factors have come into play giving trails more exposure. “The stars seem to aligned differently,” she said with a smile. “A lot more people are walking and biking to be more healthy. These are cheap activities.”

She also credited the leadership of Gov. Jack Markell and DelDOT and DNREC officials for placing a higher priority on the creation of new trails and finishing existing ones. “But it has to come from both directions – good leadership and people pushing for it,” she said.

Lewes Mayor Jim Ford said the proposed trail projects are exciting. “They would provide an important link to connect communities,” he said.

Ford said it appears plans are in place for the proposed trail network to become a reality. “All that is needed is money,” he said.

The goal of the initiative is to create a statewide network of pathways and trails for nonmotorized travel and recreation. “Implementing Gov. Markell's vision for a bikable and walkable Delaware will improve air quality, provide transportation alternatives, expand recreational opportunities, spur local businesses and promote healthier lifestyles,” said DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara.

Moerschel said it makes sense to provide links from existing state park trails to surrounding communities.

Most people who visited the Lewes workshop showed interest in the Showfield extension of the popular Junction and Breakwater Trail. Comments varied, but everyone agreed that cycling and walking on narrow Gills Neck Road is not safe.

Ford was impressed with the proposed extension of the Junction and Breakwater Trail that would bypass Gills Neck Road. “It's a much safer trail.

Gills Neck Road is beautiful to ride on, but's it's not safe,” he said.

Ernie Soffronoff, a resident of Wolfe Pointe, off Gills Neck Road, said during most of the year there are more cyclists on Gills Neck Road than vehicles. “Locals know better than to use the road into Lewes,” he said.

Soffronoff said many people are not convinced cyclists would use the Junction and Breakwater extension to bypass Gills Neck Road. “Another idea might be to widen Gills Neck Road with a bike lane,” he said. “People love to use the road because it's so scenic.”

DelDOT consultant John Giangrant said that option was explored, but the trail would have to be at least 10 feet wide to provide two-way bike traffic.

Obtaining easements along the roadway could be problematic, he said.

A map shows how the extensive trails network in the Lewes area would link existing and new trails. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
The location of the Showfield extension of the Junction and Breakwater Trail. (Source: DelDOT)