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Delawareans to experience nature with rail explorers

Delaware Governor Jack Markell takes on of the first rides on the Rail Explorers bikes through scenic Yorklyn. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

Delaware Governor Jack Markell takes on of the first rides on the Rail Explorers bikes through scenic Yorklyn. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

The brand new Rail Explorers in Yorklyn gives visitors a new way to experience nature.

Towering trees and trickling water float by as Mary Joy Lu pedals with her feet, her pink Converse shoes lifting up and down, from a cart traveling along a rail track on top of a small bridge.

As her husband Alex Catchpoole pedals in the seat behind, the gentle breeze touches their faces, the sound of clanking iron fills the air.

It’s a scenic part of Delaware many long-term residents have never seen before. But starting this week Delawareans and tourists will have the opportunity to experience nature as they take a ride through Yorklyn with the Rail Explorers Company—co-owned by Lu and Catchpoole.

“The best thing about it is the experience of facilitating something that makes people happy, and creating these fantastic memories for people young and old,” Catchpoole said.

“If someone goes up to you and says, ‘Thank you so much, this was the best time ever,’ with a big smile on their face then you feel good about what you’re doing.”

During the rail explorer rides, passengers sit on open-air carts and pedal along a rail track while taking in breath-taking views.

Lu and Catchpoole, originally from Australia, learned about the popularity of the vehicles in South Korea, and made an agreement with the designer to launch them in the United States.

Last year the couple began tours in the Adirondacks in New York. This year, the state of Delaware asked them to start a location at 200 Gun Club Road in Yorklyn, formerly home to the now abandoned NVF warehouse site.

Rail Explorers will operate in Delaware between April 21 and June 15 to celebrate the Wilmington & Western Railroad’s 50th anniversary. Passengers will explore the Red Clay Creek on a five mile ride, traveling to the Mt. Cuba public gardens, where they will enjoy a picnic before returning.

“It’s very different to the Adirondacks. In the Adirondacks it’s the forever wilds,” Lu said. “The history of Delaware is 400 years, which is incredible, so things are more manicured, but it’s beautiful.”

Lu and Catchpoole hope the business will return next year. The state has included the rails as part of its plans to turn Yorklyn into a mixed-use residential, commercial and recreational neighborhood.

>On Monday Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware, and members of state agencies, took a ride on the explorers.

“The rail exploration ride is a blast and it’s beautiful,” Markell said. “We live in an extraordinary area, but unless you’re on that you don’t appreciate what you have right there.”

Lu said what makes the explorers different from ordinary hiking and bike riding, is that anyone can participate, including the disabled. The business has had customers with cerebral palsy and those who are in wheelchairs.

“I think what is great with this idea is you don’t have to be physically fit, you don’t even have to pedal,” Lu said. “You can go in a group and if you’re unable to pedal the other people can pedal for you.”

She said her customers have ranged from 97 years old to a 1-month-old—and said she enjoys seeing families share memories together.

“They come off the rail bike and have bonded and have shared something, and you should see how empowered the grandparents feel; like, ‘We brought our grandkids to something cool,’” Lu said. “They walk out laughing and they’ve got this moment forever.”

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