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DE LEAF Interns Center for Horticulture Summer 2013 LEAF interns at Center for Horticulture in Wilmington. © Skip Brown

Stories in Delaware

Urban Conservation

Using Natural Solutions So People And Nature Can Thrive Together

The Nature Conservancy has established a global cities program and a network of 20 cities in the U.S. with the goal of changing the relationship between cities and nature. We know using natural solutions to many of the challenges facing urban areas can create more livable communities and a world where people and nature thrive together.

In Wilmington, our strategies include promoting nature-based solutions to address a wide variety of social and environmental challenges and demonstrating the efficacy of our projects through sound research and evaluation. We are also working to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards and engage residents in citizen science research to improve water quality and the health of urban forests. Finally, we are working with the City and community partners to develop policies that tackle the challenge of making Wilmington a more sustainable place to live.

Trainees from Branches to Chances planted eight native trees during our first lot-greening effort in Wilmington's West City Center.
Wilmington Lot Greening Trainees from Branches to Chances planted eight native trees during our first lot-greening effort in Wilmington's West City Center. © John Hinkson/The Nature Conservancy

Wilmington Lot Greening

In April 2018, The Nature Conservancy in Delaware partnered with the City of Wilmington, the Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH), Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank and Creative District Wilmington to clean and improve a vacant lot in West Center City using best practices in public greening.

“This joint effort is a wonderful example of people with a common objective coming together to help make Wilmington a cleaner, more attractive city, and also improve the quality of life for the residents of West Center City,” said Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki.

Work at the 5th and Madison Street lot began with DCH’s Branches to Chances trainees planting eight trees, generously donated by Mt. Cuba Center, and participants in the Challenge Program installed a wooden fence around the perimeter of the lot. The lot cleanup, made possible through a grant of about $15,000 to the Delaware Center for Horticulture by The Nature Conservancy, is the first of several lot projects scheduled for the West Center City area.

Brandywine-Christina Water Fund

The Nature Conservancy in Delaware and the University of Delaware Water Resources Agency, under a grant from the William Penn Foundation, have studied the feasibility of creating a water fund to restore the Brandywine-Christina Watershed.

The Brandywine-Christina watershed provides over 100 million gallons daily to 500,000 area residents. Yet most of its waterways are unsafe for recreation and water treatment is costly. A water fund would coordinate the financing and prioritizing of conservation projects in the watershed—often at a cost far lower than traditional efforts. That’s good news to any area resident who turns on their drinking water tap.

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Brandywine Creek We are working throughout the Brandywine-Christina watershed to ensure clean drinking water for 60% of Delaware's residents. © Devan King

South Wilmington Wetland Park

For several years, we have been working with South Wilmington and other partners on a plan to restore about 22 acres of marsh that stretches along the Christina across from the city’s popular Riverfront to the Market Street Bridge and the neighborhood of Southbridge.

The $23.9 million South Wilmington Wetland Restoration and Conservation Project would allow the area to absorb excess water from major storms and high tides, which regularly flood nearby roadways and, sometimes, the basements of neighboring homes. Functional wetlands would reduce the burden on century-old floodgates that often fail.

Another result will be the creation of a community park with a multi-use trail that would encourage outdoor recreation and connect historic Southbridge with neighborhoods and amenities to the west of the park.

It’s not an opportunity but an imperative—and a call we are responding to. In the end, it will be a valuable community resource.

Director of Urban Conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Delaware

The Nature Conservancy is also evaluating the feasibility of a comprehensive greening strategy and park rehabilitation for Wilmington. Well aware that parks and other open spaces are hubs of community, The Conservancy could be instrumental in turning areas such as vacant lots into pocket parks or gardens or converting them to other uses, such as attractive mechanisms for management of storm water runoff. In addition to other benefits, such areas often positively affect perceptions of public safety. Put simply, more green often translates to less crime, health improvements and a host of other social and economic benefits.

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South Wilmington Wetland Park A rendering of the South Wilmington Wetland Park shows how the area could look after wetlands are restored and trails are built. © City of Wilmington

Delaware Stream Stewards

Stream Stewards is a Citizen Science program designed to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in watershed stewardship. Adult volunteers are invited to sign up for a series of training sessions to learn how to monitor the water quality of streams that flow through First State National Historical Park to Brandywine Creek. A curriculum is being developed for students and their families to become engaged in water quality monitoring near their schools and homes. All participants will learn about stewardship opportunities for improving the health of their watersheds, and contributing to conservation in their communities.

Brandywine Creek supplies 100% of the drinking water for Wilmington residents. When water runs off of surfaces with low permeability like paved roads, it carries contaminants that enter the streams that feed into Brandywine Creek. This run-off degrades the water quality and threatens this important resource, lowering its habitat value for wildlife, and making it unsafe for activities such as fishing and swimming. Through a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, National Park Service, and Stroud Water Research Center, and funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Stream Stewards will engage citizen scientist volunteers in data collection that will help to address these water quality issues.

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Stream Monitoring A citizen scientist from the Stream Stewards program samples water in First State National Historical Park in Wilmington, Delaware.