Southern Delaware ecological preserve is adding a $2.5 million educational campus and new amphitheater

The James Farm Ecological Preserve will add a new educational campus to enhance visitor engagement and environmental education.

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At the preserve

Children visiting the James Farm Ecological Preserve are learning from environmentalists through the preserve's educational programs. (Courtesy of the Delaware Center of Inland Bays)

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One of the 28 nationally recognized estuaries, the James Farm Ecological Preserve sits in the coastal region of Delaware’s Sussex County, where freshwater meets saltwater in a dynamic estuarine environment. The preserve provides a wild oasis with seven diverse habitats, ranging from sandy beaches at low tide to salty marshes, shady forests and sunny meadows. It’s a favorite spot for schools, young children and environmentalists.

Last year, the preserve welcomed over 30,000 visitors for educational programs. The number of visitors looking to learn about the area continues to grow, highlighting the need for an educational facility.

At the preserve
One of the beaches along the trails of the James Farm Ecological Preserve. (Courtesy of the Delaware Center of Inland Bays)

“We’ve done education at the whim of mother nature for 30 years now,” explained Christophe Tulou, executive director of the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays. Even without a dedicated center, the group has been committed to hosting educational programs, research and other activities despite challenging weather conditions.

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This is why the park created a master plan in 2014, including the $2.5 million initiative that began construction in May.

“This will provide us with a three-season sheltered space for educating children as well as adults through our education programming,” he said. “So when the thunderstorm strikes we are not in the middle of it, we’ll have shelter overhead and lab space and video capabilities.”

“[It will] allow us to provide the education and do the outreach that we do there in a way that people these days can relate to with all the technological bells and whistles that are so important to get information across,” he added.

Alongside the educational building and upgrades, new features include a maintenance facility, more signage on trails, and a notable addition for naturalists: outdoor learning spaces, including a 70-seat amphitheater.

“This facility at James Farm is going to up our game,” Tulou said. “It’s going to allow us to do that education, do that outreach in a way that’s not only beneficial to our neighbors here in Sussex County, but to all the people from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, DC, Baltimore and a broader reach of the United States.”

As they expand the campus, a top priority will be creating more opportunities for additional programming and expanding existing programs. Tulou emphasizes that the project will significantly contribute to raising awareness of the environment as a whole.

The blueprint showcases the future layout of the educational campus, featuring educational buildings and an amphitheater.

“This is the critical part of what we do, and that’s why education and outreach to our community is so critically important,” he said. “The more people understand the connection of the land and the waters, the better they’ll appreciate their actions. Whether it’s at home putting fertilizer on their lawns or maybe washing some grease down the storm sewer, [we want to] help them be a part of the solution and educate them about what sorts of things they can do as citizens and visitors.”

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The development is on schedule, and visitors can expect the new buildings to be ready for use in October.

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