Plan to draw more tourism focuses on Nanticoke River

By Lynn R. Parks

Every year, tourists visiting the First State spend more than $4 billion here. Nearly half of that, $1.7 billion, is spent in Sussex County, according to the Delaware Tourism Office and Southern Delaware Tourism.
Tourism supports 18,000 jobs in the county and accounts for 10 percent of the state's tax revenue, the two agencies add. Joel Dunn would like to see those numbers go even higher. The president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy addressed the Seaford City Council last week and asked members for their support of a plan he is hatching to draw more tourists to western Sussex County.
The Nanticoke River is a jewel of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, he said. And the river is running through your town. You have something that is truly unique and you have an opportunity to leverage that for the benefit of your citizens and your economy. The Nanticoke River is part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, established in 2006 as the first historic water trail in the U.S. The trail is part of the National Trails system and is administered by the National Park Service. Smith, an emissary of the English government, and his crew explored the bay in the summer of 1608, sailing 2,500 miles. His detailed map of the bay region was used for decades after he drew it, and still remains a unique record of what the area was like at the start of the 17th century.
Seaford, near the headwaters of the Nanticoke, is included on the National Park Service's map of the water trail. The map highlights the Seaford Museum and the Ross Plantation as possible destinations.
Your city history is so fascinating, Dunn told the council members. You should be able to attract lovers of history, as well as millennials and families.
In addition to being part of the water trail, in April 2015, the Nanticoke and its surrounding areas were designated the Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape, a joint effort by the U.S. Departments of Defense,

Agriculture and Interior to promote and sustain compatible land uses in a manner that protects nearby military test and training needs while benefitting all partners and landowners, according to the Sentinel Landscapes program.
The Naval Air Station Patuxent River is on the Chesapeake Bay, at the mouth of the Patuxent, on Maryland's western shore just north of the mouth of the Nanticoke. The air station's flight test ranges encompass 2,360 square miles of restricted airspace over parts of the bay as well as Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.
The protection of natural lands in the area, as well as the preservation of farm fields, ensures the Navy's continued unrestricted use of this important airspace. At the same time, the efforts protect a landscape that is home to a variety of special status plants and animals, is rich in cultural and historical resources, and is the recreational playground for millions.
Since its start, the Sentinel Landscapes program has invested $4.2 million to protect 1,164 acres of land along the Nanticoke River corridor. Funding came from state, federal and private organizations.
Dunn did not tell the council any particulars about his plan to encourage tourism in Seaford, asking only for its general support of the idea. I just wanted to talk with you about the overarching concept, and then I will come back with specifics, he said. In an email on Monday, Dunn said that he would like to see the city become a starting-off point for trips on the John Smith water trail. The city is a gateway to an evocative experience along the river, akin to what Capt. John Smith or the Native Americans experienced, he wrote. We would love to see a trail contact station in the city that is operated in partnership by the National Park Service and the Chesapeake Conservancy.
Dunn added that he has a potential $400,000 matching grant from a private donor for a project of this nature in Seaford. We are all in agreement that we have a river that we're underutilizing, Mayor David Genshaw told Dunn at the city council meeting. We'd love to work with you to make something happen.

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