On the right pathOct 03, 2017 01:07PM ● By Steven Hoffman
Shannon O’Neill spent the past year studying in Hawaii, where the landscape is lush, the hiking trails are challenging, and the coast is within easy reach. What a difference a plane ride can make. Today, she is a student at the University of Delaware, where the hills roll rather than soar. O’Neill, however, feels right at home when she visits White Clay Creek State Park.
“It’s a beautiful place and reminds me of Hawaii – how green it was in September,” she said. “Then the leaves started to change, which is also kind of exciting.”
O’Neill said she plans to get back to nature whenever she misses Hawaii, or the Delaware beaches, where she grew up. She’ll also go there to study. In her environmental nonfiction class, the students were reading “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” by Annie Dillard, which details an unnamed narrator's explorations near her home, and her thoughts on nature and life. “It’s inspiring me to start adventuring around White Clay Creek,” she said.
But White Clay Creek isn’t the only spot in the Newark area that is laced with trails for hiking and biking close to nature. The city has 33 parks, more than 17 miles of trails, and 650 acres of parkland and open space. In addition to White Clay Creek State Park, the city is near the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area, White Clay Creek Preserve and Lums Pond.
While many trails are designed for recreation, others have a practical purpose: People can get from point A to point B without getting in their cars, and that’s appealing to students and people who work in the city.
Multipurpose trails include the James F. Hall Trail, which in 2010 received the National Trail designation. Opened in 2003, the 1.76-mile, hard-surface trail was named for a former director of Newark’s Parks and Recreation Department.
The relatively flat path runs through three parks: Phillips, Lewis and Kells. It also follows the northern edge of the Amtrak corridor to the Delaware Technology Park. Access points also include sites at Bradford Lane, Apple Road, the South College Avenue overpass, Academy Street, Manual Street, Chapel Street and Wyoming Road.
Because it’s lighted and paved – and it runs across town – this trail is busy most days, and there are emergency call boxes posted periodically along the route so people feel safe.
“What makes it so popular is its interconnectivity,” said Joseph Spadafino, the current director of Newark’s Parks and Recreation Department. “You can go from a lot of different residential areas and connect to Main Street, shopping and White Clay Creek – depending on how ambitious you are. It gets heavy bicycle and pedestrian use.”
It’s no wonder that the League of American Bicyclists has named the city of Newark a Bicycle Friendly Community, which is awarded to communities that have demonstrated a commitment to bicycling. The trail is also part of the East Coast Greenway system, which runs from Maine to Florida.
The Hall Trail connects to the 4.4-mile Pomeroy and Newark Rail Trail. “Those are great trails,” said James Wilson, executive director of Bike Delaware. His organization would like a trail that extends from Wilmington to Newark, which a significant percent of New Castle County’s population could easily reach.
The Pomeroy Trail, which follows a railroad line that was abandoned in the 1930s, also links to White Clay Creek State Park, and users can follow the trail to the University of Delaware, Newark Shopping Center and the DART transit hub.
The Pomeroy Trail isn’t the only path on land that was once used for another purpose. In nearby Bear, Lums Pond – the state’s largest freshwater pond – once powered a sawmill. The water was also used to fill the locks of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.
Here you’ll find trails for hikers, cyclists and equestrians. To loop around the pond, take the 6.4-mile Swamp Forest Trail, made of crushed stone and packed earth. The 8.1-mile, packed-earth Little Jersey Trail flows through hardwood forests and open areas. It’s a wide trail that’s shared by hikers, bikers and equestrians.
Within biking distance of Main Street rests the 3,600-acre White Clay Creek State Park, which stretches from Route 896 to Polly Drummond Road. “It’s a beautiful place,” said O’Neill. “It definitely has surprised me.”
The park is known for its hiking trails. And with 37 miles of trails, that is no wonder. The paths meander to scenic overlooks and past rocky outcrops, and many run alongside the creek or have creek views. The aptly named Creek Road Trail parallels the water for nearly 2.3 miles. Connecting trails will take you across the Pennsylvania border to that state’s White Clay Creek Preserve, a 1,255-acre park that is three miles north of Newark.
Back on the Delaware side, the 3.1-mile Tri-Valley Trail encompasses three sites: the Judge Morris Estate, Middle Run Natural Area and Possum Hill. (It passes through open fields, woods and Polly Drummond Road and Paper Mill Road, so use caution.)
Both hikers and bikers can traverse through the Middle Run Valley Natural Area to Possum Hill. There’s a life course fitness trail in the Carpenter Recreation Area, and the Pomeroy Trail leads to a pedestrian bridge over White Clay Creek, which in fall and spring is stocked with trout. Fishermen can also catch sunfish and bluegills in four small ponds. Birders, meanwhile, flock to White Clay Creek, especially during migrations. The Chambers House Nature Center, located within the park, holds bird-watching excursions guided by naturalists.
Many people enjoy the park for the architectural elements they they’ll find along the trails. The 3.9-mile Twin Valley Trail, for instance, is punctuated by old wooden bridges, stone walls and the Arc Monument, which marks the line between Delaware and Pennsylvania. There is even a 1950s-era Buick rusting in the belly of the forest.
While the state labels this trail for hikers, don’t be surprised if you see a mountain biker – or 10. White Clay Creek State Park is a mecca for cyclists who don’t mind bunny hopping over the rocky terrain.
Traveling toward Maryland on Route 273, visitors will encounter the 5,633-acre Fair Hill National Resource Management Area, which is located less than a half-mile west of the Delaware border.
Once owned by William du Pont Jr., the equestrian and foxhunting enthusiast who also owned Bellevue Hall, which is now part of Bellevue State Park in North Wilmington, the land was purchased by the state of Maryland in 1975.
A blazed trail runs from each parking lot to join an 80-mile trail system used by hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. (Fair Hill Stables runs guided trail rides.)
To be sure, Fair Hill still caters to equestrians. There are steeplechase, timber course and flat races. This is also the home of numerous festivals, including the annual Cecil County Fair.
Creating trails and bike paths was a priority for Gov. Jack Markell’s administration, which started the First State Trail and Pathways Initiative. In September, the city council voted to revive plans for a pedestrian-bicycle bridge over White Clay Creek, which the group had voted to kill just a week prior. The acquisition of funding sparked the reversal.
The $1.75 million project has received seed money from New Castle County, which pledged $200,000, and the University of Delaware, which contributed $100,000. In addition, state Sen. David Sokola and Rep. Paul Baumbach promised an allocation of $150,000 from Community Transportation Funds. The project had already banked $1 million in federal and state grants.
“It’s a great project because you have the city, state, university, county and federal funds all partnering to make it happen,” Spadafino said.
The 230-foot-long, 12-foot-wide bridge will be named for Charles Emerson, the former Parks and Recreation director, and it will parallel the Paper Mill Road Bridge. Not only will it provide safe transport for bicyclists and pedestrians, but it will link Kershaw Park with Curtis Mill Park, which now occupies the old paper mill’s site. Construction should start in 2019.
Spadafino said future projects could improve interconnectivity within Newark. The city will play a large part in any effort to link Newark to Wilmington via a trail, he added.
He stressed that the city won’t just create trails for the sake of making them. “It should be a viable project,” he said. “We want to know that people will take advantage of it, whether it’s to exercise, walk, bird-watch or just get out and enjoy the environment.”
As the trails demonstrate, bike routes aren’t limited to parkland, although they provide scenic views of them. A map on the city’s website (newarkde.gov/DocumentCenter/View/16) indicates bike routes throughout Newark. There are icons for park-and-ride lots and bike shops. The trails are color coded to show the traffic load, so you can avoid heavily traveled routes if you wish. For more information on bike trails in Delaware, check out the Tourism Office’s website at www.visitdelware.com.