at TNC’s Edward H. McCabe Preserve.
Floating dock at TNC’s Edward H. McCabe Preserve. © TNC

Places We Protect

Edward H. McCabe Nature Preserve

Delaware

The McCabe Nature Preserve offers opportunities to observe a variety of Delaware's ecosystems.

Donated to The Nature Conservancy in 1993 by Constance McCabe, the Edward H. McCabe Nature Preserve is The Nature Conservancy’s most-visited publicly accessible preserve in Delaware. It features a wide range of habitats found along the Broadkill River that harbor diverse plants and animals within a small area of the Delmarva Peninsula.

When Constance McCabe donated her family’s land to TNC, about 25 percent of the land was used for farming. Material dredged from the river channel had also been deposited in a five-acre clearing located on the property. Today, TNC manages the preserve as a natural area that is open for controlled public use.

What's At Stake

The McCabe Preserve features a wide range of habitats, plants and animals within a small area of the Delmarva Peninsula. Several distinct habitat types are found along the Broadkill River and within the Preserve including tidal marsh, scrub-shrub wetlands and upland forest.

Adjacent to the open water of the river, emergent tidal marshes are regularly flooded, creating diverse habitats dominatedby flowering herbs and sedges including marshmallow, arrow arum, pickerel weed, broad-leaved arrowhead and tear-thumb. Further from the river’s edge, marsh transitions into into scrub-shrub wetlands that feature swamp rose, arrow-wood, buttonbush, common alder and globally-rare seaside alder. 

Just inland from the tidal marsh and associated wetlands, stands of red maple, blackgum and loblolly pine survive the oxygen-depleted swamp soils by growing on mounded hummocks. Long-prized and logged for its durability, Atlantic white cedar is identified by its reddish brown, fibrous trunk, conical crown and evergreen scale-like leaves. The swamp understory harbors fragrant bayberry bushes and spectacular spring-blooming wild azaleas.

Upland forests of various ages comprise much of the preserve and provide insight into the history of McCabe. Like many in Delmarva, these upland forests were logged to make way for farms following European settlement. In May and June, bird watchers with a keen eye can see colorful migratory neo-tropical birds including a variety of warblers and thrushes. Keep an eye on the ground as well, as eastern box turtles are commonly seen foraging for food along the trails. During warmer months, the wildflower meadow comes alive with colorful blooms that are enjoyed by monarch and tiger swallowtail butterflies, among others.

Reforesting McCabe

Over the years, TNC has engaged in restoring McCabe's forests to create wildlife habitat, including for migratory and resident birds, and to promote storage and filtering of water moving into the Broadkill River from nearby agricultural fields. These efforts began, in earnest, in 1996 when TNC staff and volunteers planted the five-acre field of dredged material with more than 2,000 native red and white oak, green ash and black gum seedlings to buffer sensitive wetland habitat from polluted runoff. A native wildflower meadow, also planted in 2016, attracts pollinators like monarch butterflies and Eastern bluebirds.

From 1993 until 2018, TNC leased 39 acres of farm fields on the Preserve to local farmers who grew soy and corn in the sandy soil. In 2019, an opportunity arose to transform those farmlands into native forest thanks to funding made available as part of an agreement between the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and Purdue Foods to mitigate wastewater issues emerging from the company’s Georgetown plant. This made it possible for TNC to pursue a long-term vision for the property that included planting 11,700 shrubs and native trees including black oak, red oak, pin oak, swamp white oak, white oak, chestnut oak, chokeberry, persimmon, dogwood and black cherry.

The Conservancy also added a quarter-mile crushed-stone walking path to the reforestation area, which reveals progress of the tree growth and features Eastern Bluebirds commonly seen along the edges of the fields. The Conservancy plans to add additional trails to the newly reforested areas of the preserve. 

Visit

While a roadside parking area provides access to hiking trails located on the preserve, arriving by canoe is the way to go for adventurous visitors. Two miles away in the historic town of Milton, explorers can put in their canoes and meander down the Broadkill River before heading ashore.

A floating dock provides even better access to the river. The publicly accessible dock is open for use by non-motorized watercraft such as canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Visitors can use the dock during normal preserve hours. Fishing and swimming from the dock or adjacent shorelines is prohibited. A picnic table is available for use near the dock; please take your trash with you.  

Canoeing the Broadkill River

Canoeing along the Broadkill offers a unique perspective on this important river corridor. Keen eyes will pick out large-mouth bass, bluegill and, in the spring, migrating river herring as these surface-feeding fish seek out insects. The majestic great blue heron, with its pale blue-gray color, sharp bill, long legs and six-foot wing span, is hard to miss as it glides above the river. In spring and early summer, watch for the golden head and breast of the prothonotary warbler perching on riverbank tree limbs.

Hiking the McCabe Nature Preserve

Hiking around the preserve reveals upland forests, swamp forests, tidal marsh and scrub-shrub wetlands, and a restoration area. Plus, a native meadow planted in spring 2016 attracts pollinators like monarch butterflies and Eastern bluebirds. 

Preserve Guidelines

While visiting the McCabe preserve, please DO:

  • Take precautions against ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers and sunburn.
  • Wear sturdy footwear.
  • Tuck pant legs into socks/shoes.
  • Apply insect repellant and sun protection.
  • Bring drinking water.
  • Watch for poison ivy.
  • Stay on marked trails.
  • Remove all litter. This is a “carry-in carry-out” preserve.
  • Leave pets at home.
  • Enjoy nature.

Please DO NOT:

  • Feed or disturb wildlife.
  • Hunt, trap, fish, dig, pick or remove plants, animals or other artifacts from the preserve.
  • Bring motorized vehicles, ATVs, bicycles or horses.
  • Bring alcohol or firearmss
  • Camp, make fires or smoke.
  • Swim in the river.

Support Delaware Nature

Help TNC and partners sustain a vibrant future for the communities and wildlife that share Delaware’s diverse landscape.