Protecting land in Delaware under the radar [video]

    (file/WHYY)

    (file/WHYY)

    The Mt. Cuba Center is known as a fancy du Pont family estate and garden, but most people don’t know the nonprofit has quietly helped protect thousands of acres of untouched land.

    With assets valued at more than $320 million, Mt. Cuba typically has $6 million to $8 million to work with when helping partners acquire land.

    “Mt. Cuba Center does not acquire properties directly for our own real estate portfolio. What Mt. Cuba Center does is we work with partners like the Conservation Fund, the Nature Conservancy, Brandywine Conservancy, Delaware Wild Lands to help them purchase properties and conserve it,” said Executive Director Jeff Downing.

    Downing said Mt. Cuba has participated in about 20 different transactions helping other conservation organizations acquire and preserve open, undeveloped space since 2005.

    One of those transactions included a $20 million grant to help the Conservation Fund buy the Woodlawn Tract in 2012. The 1,100 acres along the Brandywine River in northern New Castle County is part of what is now the First State National Historic Park.

    Content partner Delaware Today magazine spoke with Blaine Phillips, the Conservation Fund’s Mid-Atlantic regional director, who said, “[Mt. Cuba Center] made it possible. Without that heavy lift, I think we’d still be debating about a national park today.”

    More recently, the thousand-acre Taylors Bridge Roberts Farm near Odessa was donated to the Delaware Wild Lands. That land, considered one of the largest stretches of unprotected land remaining in Delaware’s coastal zone, was also bought with serious financial help from Mt. Cuba.

    Despite the enormity of these transactions, Mt. Cuba has maintained a low profile from the beginning.

    “It’s not our style to kind of jump up and down about what we’re doing. It’s really just more important to us that the land is preserved in perpetuity,” Downing said.

    But the center based in the family home of the late Lammot du Pont Copeland and his wife Pamela appears to be a little more comfortable being in the limelight, especially now, as it hopes to attract even more visitors to the estate.

    “The Copelands’ intention was simply to leverage this beautiful garden, to use it to inspire people to then participate in conservation,” Downing said.

    In an effort to share the Copelands’ vision and love for native plants with more people, Mt. Cuba has expanded its hours and opened the gardens for general admission.

    Delaware Today is a content partner with WHYY. 

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