Named by Captain John Smith for the Native Americans who once lived nearby, the Nanticoke River represents one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most productive tributaries. The surrounding 725,000-acre watershed supports a rich array of wildlife, including more rare plants than any other landscape on the Delmarva Peninsula.
Over the years, the Conservancy and its partners have protected an estimated 20 percent of the Nanticoke River watershed, including in southern Delaware at the Conservancy’s Middleford North Preserve. Located just upstream from Seaford, the preserve hugs a portion of Gravelly Branch, a last undisturbed portion of the Nanticoke River watershed that hasn’t been channelized or dredged. It’s a place that retains the river’s wild and scenic character in the face of burgeoning development.
Size: 440 acres, including 2.5 miles of river frontage along the Nanticoke River and the Gravelly Branch tributary
Location: Sussex County, Delaware
What’s At Stake
Deciduous swamps and upland forests boast a wide range of tree species, including red maple, blackgum, loblolly pine and sweetgum. Groves of Atlantic white cedar trees provide the sole caterpillar-stage food source for a population of the globally imperiled Hessel's hairstreak butterfly. The area is also home to globally and locally imperiled rare plant species such as seaside alder, Parker's piperwort and Long's bittercress. It provides feeding, staging, and nesting habitat for more than eighty species of migratory birds, including Eastern wood-peewee, American redstart, black-and-white warbler, Blackburnian warbler, Louisiana waterthrush and worm-eating warbler. As an undisturbed stretch of the Nanticoke River, the preserve provides important spawning and nursery grounds for species of fish including striped bass, hickory shad and river herring, as well as resident fish such as largemouth bass, redbreast sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish and golden shiners.
The Conservancy purchased almost 290 acres to establish the preserve in 1992. Additional parcels were acquired in 1998 from Mary Louise Spicer (70.2 acres) and her sister Jeannette Rogers (82 acres).
In 2009, Jeannette Rogers sold an additional 25 acres of her family’s working century farm. The property, which borders the preserve, expands habitat for more than eighty species of migratory birds and other wildlife, and improves the quality and quantity of surface and ground water supplies flowing into the Nanticoke River and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.
Pursuing the acquisition of land and conservation easements from willing sellers in an effort to keep lands and waters out of development and further protect the preserve.