Maddy Lauria, Delaware News Journal
As Gov. John Carney and other state and local officials grabbed ceremonial shovels positioned in front of news cameras, Slaughter Beach resident Bill McSpadden quietly slipped to the edge of the crowd.
Looking out on the salt marsh behind those dignitaries, McSpadden imagined what a new scenic overlook into the marsh will do for the children – many of whom live within miles of the coast but have never seen it with their own eyes – when they visit Slaughter Beach next year.
He wondered if more direct access to the diverse ecosystem in his backyard will foster the same level of love for the environment that he has felt for decades.
“I learned as a kid the importance of the areas down here,” McSpadden said. “We have to educate the kids.”
That’s just what Anne Harper, Delaware Nature Society’s executive director, hopes will happen. In the past five years, the nonprofit brought more than 5,000 students to the marsh to teach them the importance of coastal ecosystems and light a spark.
“With the boardwalk, we will have the opportunity to expand those educational experiences that connect people in the state of Delaware to the magic of nature in their own backyard,” she said. “It’s really a privilege.”
By this time next year, there will be a new group of students, birders, hikers, walkers and run-of-the-mill beach visitors who will be able to get a little closer to nature when a 345-foot-long, Y-shaped boardwalk jets out into the Delaware Nature Society’s Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve.
There, they will be able to soak in the sulfur smell of the 108-acre wetland ecosystem and enjoy the area’s biodiversity: the tiniest diamondback terrapins, the gliding great blue herons, the ospreys nesting on a nearby platform.
As camera shutters clicked and people clapped at the tiny chunks of dirt falling alongside the road, McSpadden recalled days spent as a young boy exploring and fishing the shallow waters of Delaware Bay, and the fire that led his grandparents in 1952 to rebuild the beach cottage he now calls home.
It’s that generational connection to the town and his respect for the environment that inspired him years ago to persist to make the Delaware Nature Society’s dream of a wetland walkway a reality.
McSpadden couldn’t slip away earlier in the morning when Slaughter Beach Mayor Harry Ward singled him out as the catalyst of the project, crediting him for collaborating not only with local leaders and the Delaware Nature Society, but also state and federal agencies to get the funding needed for the project.
“Bill McSpadden had a vision,” Ward said to the crowd huddled in the beach pavilion, who would soon give him a standing ovation for his volunteer work. “Think about this, especially in today’s political climate, projects like this can happen if you have a vision and work together.”
For Milford resident Randy Marvel, Thursday’s groundbreaking paid tribute to a family legacy long in the making.
His father bought the land in 1959, and after deeding the beachside properties to his children, the Marvel family donated the expansive marsh to the Delaware Nature Society.
“He would think this is great, just wonderful,” Marvel said. “When we gave the land, our children were all young, and now our grandchildren will be able to use these facilities and programs.”
In recent years, Slaughter Beach residents and officials have shored up their dedication to preserving the town’s coastal ecosystem.
Strips of grass along the road are marked by signs showing that its disorderly state serves a good purpose and that it is a habitat for monarch butterflies that rely on milkweed to survive. Residents are frequently seen strolling the sand with bags of trash in hand, picking up litter along the way without expecting any recognition.
It is also an official horseshoe crab sanctuary, and the ancient-looking creatures regularly get a helping hand from Slaughter Beach residents when they are found flipped on their backs during their rush to procreate.
Beautiful beach homes and quaint cottages are all the development to be found in a town that has dedicated most of its land to preservation and conservation.
“This is a realization of a dream that will create opportunities to connect more and more people to the magic of this community,” Harper said.
Of the 15,000 acres and 2.8 miles of shoreline surrounding those homes, nearly 98 percent has been permanently protected, Ward said. The town’s population of 230 quadruples on summer weekends when locals and out-of-staters avoid the hustle and bustle of other ocean beach towns for a quieter coastal reprieve.
The boardwalk project will expand on the state’s Delaware Bayshore Initiative and is a partnership between the town, Delaware Nature Society, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Delaware Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration as well as other local organizations such as Dogfish Head and individual supporters.
The project, 80 percent of which is federally funded, goes out to bid next week. Construction is slated to begin later this year, with completion expected sometime next year.
This article originally appeared in The News Journal on October 19, 2018. Read it here.