Steve and Julie Greenly
It was 1990 and The Nature Conservancy had hired Delaware native Rob McKim to establish a presence in the state. After attending to his first order of business – opening a P.O. Box for the organization’s newest Chapter – he began scratching his head.
“Scientists with the Delaware Natural Heritage Program made me aware of general areas in need of attention,” reflects McKim, who remains with the organization as its Central U.S. Division Director. “I had a list of places and a map, but no clear directive on the highest priorities nor a knowledge about key tracts owned by people interested in working with the Conservancy.”
Except there were a couple of people eager to talk with Rob. The Heritage Program pointed him in the direction of Steve and Julie Greenly, who resided in the town of Ellendale in Sussex County. The Greenlys sought an organization capable of conserving a 1.2-acre parcel which harbored rare species and formed the upper reaches of Reynolds Pond, one of the state’s few remaining undeveloped millponds. They understood that The Nature Conservancy might be up for the challenge.
“The Heritage Program scientist had requested permission to visit our property since it contained Atlantic white cedar trees which are known to harbor a rare butterfly,” says Julie Greenly. “Instead of finding the butterfly, he located several unique plants including the extremely rare swamp pink.”
According to the scientist, swamp pink was so rare that its presence in isolated locations around the state had even diverted highway and other construction projects. As conservation-minded individuals, Julie and Steve were eager to explore options for protecting their property since it harbored the rare flower. They decided to donate it to the Conservancy to ensure its long-term conservation.
“While small in size, the Greenly property provided me with a launching pad for the Conservancy’s work in Delaware,” adds McKim. “Sharing their story and generous land donation through press releases, letters and other materials laid the groundwork for many important and higher profile conservation projects to follow.”
Still included in the Chapter’s portfolio of natural areas today, the parcel contains towering Atlantic white cedars mixed with a hardwood swamp forest of red maple, mixed oaks and some softwood pines. A diverse understory still contains swamp pink and other rare plants. Collectively, the wildlife contained within the small parcel provides ideal habitat for the uncommon butterfly, Hessels hairstreak, which is what the Heritage Program scientist sought during that initial visit almost 25 years ago.
“Not only was this the first land transaction in our Chapter’s history, it also highlights the Conservancy’s roots in ensuring that the state’s most ecologically-rich, native habitats are protected,” says Richie Jones, the Conservancy’s current Delaware State Director.
Steve Greenly is glad to have helped in getting the ball rolling, adding, “My wife and I are lovers of nature and the outdoors. We wanted to do something that would last forever, and protecting rare species by donating some of our land to the Conservancy seemed like the perfect way to go.”