White Clay Creek State Preserve celebrates 30 years
By Carla Lucas
On October 16, 1984, the DuPont Company donated approximately 1,350 acres of land to Delaware and Pennsylvania, thus creating the White Clay Creek Preserve and the White Clay Creek State Park. Thirty years ago, this donation ended one plan for the land—a dam-- but created a legacy and a natural resource that has been enjoyed by the local people of Pennsylvania and Delaware ever since.
In the last 30 years, not too much has changed throughout this nature preserve, except for a couple of new bends in the river. Nature has been allowed to follow its course along this creek and the surrounding watershed, which was the first entire watershed in the nation to be granted the National Wild and Scenic River status as a whole watershed.
In an area experiencing high growth and construction in the last two decades, much of the lands surrounding the White Clay Creek have remained undeveloped; some have even been conserved as open space forever. In many places, lands connected to the White Clay Creek Preserve and Park have been bought or donated to their respective states as even more lands encompass this natural resource than there were 30 years ago.
In the early 1960s, it was proposed to build a dam on the White Clay Creek at Wedgewood Road to give the residents of Delaware a new water source. It would have flooded the White Clay Creek into Landenberg. Engineers in the 1960s were predicting water shortages within decades and the only new source for water would be the damming of the White Clay Creek. The DuPont Company, feeling a pinch for water at some of its Delaware plants, began buying all within the 195-foot elevation along the White Clay Creek for the proposed reservoir.
Pennsylvania landowners along the White Clay Creek, such as Jan Kalb and Gwen Cramer, formed a group to oppose the project. Their concerns were that Pennsylvania land was being taken to supply Delaware with water. Also they were concerned that large mud flats would be created in Pennsylvania when the reservoir was drawn down, creating a haven for mosquitoes and an eye-sore.
In Delaware, a coalition of organizations such as the Delaware Sierra Club and the United Auto Workers Union, and concerned citizens such as Dorothy Miller and Don Sharpe started protesting the dam construction project
Eventually, the Pennsylvania opposition came together with the active group from Delaware and in 1965 the White Clay Watershed Association was formed and incorporated.
This grassroots group realized that the water-shortage issue needed to be solved in order to stop the dam project. It was an issue of distribution, not volume. The group worked tirelessly to help New Castle County solve its distribution problems with the inter-connectivity, or sharing, of water among the state’s various water companies.
Once the water issue was solved, then Delaware Sen. Joe Biden was instrumental in negotiating the land donation with DuPont, creating a two-state park system that now encompasses over 3,000 acres today.
In the article, “The Early Years of White Clay Watershed Association,” author David R. Hawk wrote: “Today, we owe a debt to both the proponents and opponents of the reservoir. The proponents, although unsuccessful in their plans to build a reservoir, succeeded in locking up the land and sparing the White Clay valley the sprawl and development that has afflicted so much of the surrounding area.”
The White Clay Creek Preserve and State Park are formed
In April 1984, the National Park Service issued a report from its study of the White Clay Creek. It stated, “The White Clay Creek property possesses a number of natural and cultural features that are unique, high quality resources of multi-state and national significance.”
The recommended action read, “The DuPont Company should consider donating the White Clay Creek property to Delaware and Pennsylvania to be developed, operated and maintained as a bi-state park. The development, operations and maintenance of the park would be undertaken and financed in a coordinated manner by appropriate state and local government agencies in consultation with other interests.”
As recommended, the lands were accepted by the states and a bi-state advisory council was created. The Bi-State Advisory Council worked to create the backbone of the Preserve and Park, intending to keep the land as a natural preserve.
The trails of the White Clay Creek State Park and Preserve follow the stream in a linear way. Many trails cross over streams or rivers, not follow them, and visitors can walk along the creek for over three miles, from Newark to Good Hope Road in Landenberg.
When the Park and Preserve were designed, the focus was to spread use along the entire preserve. The Pennsylvania Preserve especially was designed with many small parking lots spread throughout instead of one parking lot for 50 cars that would concentrate people in one area.
Old Indian trails as well as the old fisherman’s trails, a railroad bed, and motorcycle trails have all contributed to the trails that now exist in the Preserve. In recent years volunteers have worked with state officials to create and maintain new trails cut into beautiful areas for the public to enjoy.
Just opened to the public is the Northern Loop of the Tri-State Marker Trail, which leads to the monument set in the location that Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon surveyed as the intersection of Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania in 1765.
The White Clay Creek and Preserve will remain in perpetuity as a natural area.