Expansion for major Delaware state park to add 275 acres for recreation and preservation

A $26 million project is set to add 275 acres to White Clay Creek State Park in a strategic three-phase expansion.

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White Clay Creek State Park

With more than 30 miles of trails and thousands of acres of land, White Clay Creek State Park is one of the most popular in the state. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

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More than 300,500 visitors spent time at White Clay Creek State Park near Newark in 2022, making it one of the most visited parks in all of Delaware. That number could grow even higher in the coming years as another 275 acres of land is added to the park in an expansion just announced by the state.

White Clay Creek State Park stands out for diverse features, with more than 30 miles of scenic hiking and biking trails, fishing opportunities and tranquil camping sites. The park is now entering a new era of expansion in an effort to elevate recreational experiences, preserve wildlife habitats and conserve open lands.

The Delaware State Parks director Ray Bivens said the expansion is the largest and last major addition to the park, marking a significant investment in its future.

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“This is the most exciting open space acquisition we’ve had, it’s roughly 275 acres,” he said. “It’s almost entirely wooded land and it adds a very significant addition to White Clay Creek State Park. And it’s the last major addition of that size that’s even possible for the park, which is pretty special in a very urban type of area which White Clay covers.”

At a cost of about $26 million, the expansion is a collaborative effort involving the Delaware Open Space program and Mt. Cuba Center through the Conservation Fund.

Recognizing the park’s ecological value, it secured an additional $500,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation via Walmart’s Acres for America program.

“We rank every project. Some of the factors that go into those scores [are] how it connects with our current land, the recreational opportunities that it provides, the quality of the land is a big factor in that scoring as well as the size,” Bivens said. “So this checks all of those boxes, so much so that we received that nationally competitive grant. I think we were only one of 10 in the nation to receive that Acres for America grant.”

The park is set to undergo a transformative expansion across three planned phases:

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  • Phase 1: About 90 acres –- acquisition completed in September 2023.
  • Phase 2: About 97 acres — acquisition anticipated in early 2024.
  • Phase 3: About 88 acres — acquisition anticipated in late 2024.

In the pursuit of opening the additional space, Bivens emphasizes that the land, once privately owned, has never been examined or studied — which will be an immediate priority.

The goal is to integrate this area into the 2021 state park master plan, making adjustments to existing routes and potentially adding new ones.

“It usually takes us two or three years to do a full study. We had done a master plan for the park and we heard clearly from people that they love the trails and they want us to protect as much as possible and serve that green space. So this certainly fits into that,” he said. “It’ll be a natural extension to trails that we have at the park, which are already very popular.”

“White Clay has some of the most popular trails in the entire state as far as usage goes on our trail counters. So I think this will definitely be a property that we look at for trail expansions,” he added.

Dedicated to preserving Delaware’s greenery and providing nature enthusiasts with their “special place” in state parks, Delaware State Parks is also working to address traffic congestion in the county. The acquisition of additional land is seen as a strategic move to enhance park accessibility and connectivity to other trails.

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