by: Angela Trenkle, CIB Volunteer
Just off the beaten path and away from the hustle and bustle of Bethany Beach, lies a hidden oasis unknown to many of the tourists and locals that visit the shores of the Inland Bays: the James Farm Ecological Preserve.
Whether you go for a stroll in the meadow or head down the red trail and into the maritime forest, you will be struck by the Preserve’s extraordinary diversity. From salt marshes, to hardwood forests, to meadows that were once farm fields…the Preserve has something for everyone!
The Preserve’s red trail will lead you through maritime forest and saltmarsh to a pristine sandy beach. In early fall, the bay water is clear, and schools of mummichogs (a small brackish water fish) swim around your feet. Just a little further out into the water, a horseshoe crab with barnacles attached to its shell scuttles past, eagerly searching for a meal of mollusks, crustaceans, or worms.
As you gaze out across Indian River Bay, the view stretches for miles. But unlike the housing developments, businesses, and marinas, the beach on which you stand has been mostly left to nature.
The James Farm Ecological Preserve is a special slice of Delmarva: an educational and recreational site that gives visitors insight into what the Inland Bays looked like in the past: vast landscapes of varying habitats once untouched by human hands. The Preserve is peaceful and quiet, providing visitors with the experience of being enveloped in nature. The patient visitor can observe songbirds, osprey, wild turkeys, deer, and horseshoe crabs in their natural habitat.
Unfortunately, due to a population explosion in the Inland Bays watershed over the past few decades, many natural areas like this have vanished. Gone are the vast landscapes and countless native animals. Instead we now see highways, buildings, and other obvious signs of human civilization. And while these changes are inevitable, the protected Preserve offers a wonderful opportunity for people to glimpse the past in contrast to the present.
The James Farm Ecological Preserve also serves as an example — a model for the protection of the marshes and forests that still remain in the Inland Bays watershed. The Preserve acts as a living classroom for local students, a sanctuary for native animals, and a place where adults and children alike can explore the natural world around them. It’s a chance to take a break from the stresses of the modern world and recenter yourself in nature.
On November 16, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays broke ground to implement the James Farm Ecological Preserve Master Plan, a community-developed initiative designed to protect the Preserve’s diverse collection of ecosystems, while safely accommodating and educating a growing number of visitors. This Plan guides the next 20 years of management to preserve its special natural lands and lights the way for future generations to safely enjoy this ecological treasure.
The Center is now working to raise funds for the second phase of the Plan. For information about how you can help, visit www.inlandbays.org/JamesFarm.