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


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

Spectacular in its own right, the Edward H. McCabe Nature Preserve features a wide range of habitats, plants and animals within a relatively small pocket of the Delmarva Peninsula. A native meadow, planted in spring 2016, has attracted pollinators like monarch butterflies and Eastern bluebirds.

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. From two miles away in the historic town of Milton, explorers can put in their canoes and meander down the Broadkill River before heading ashore. Whether arriving by land or by river, visitors have the opportunity to really escape into a natural environment that gives true meaning to the word “preserve.”

TNC recently installed a new floating dock to provide even better access to the river. The publicly accessible dock is open for use by non-motorized watercraft, such as canoes and kayaks. Read about our new floating dock at the Edward H. McCabe Preserve from the Cape Gazette.

The McCabe Nature Preserve is a place where a slow and steady approach has yielded long term returns for TNC. Prior to ownership, material dredged from the river channel was deposited in a five-acre clearing located on the preserve. In 1996, TNC staff and volunteers planted this field with more than 2,000 native tree seedlings, including red and white oaks, green ash and black gum. Larger black cherry trees, indicative of earlier habitats, can be found near the center. Today, the emerging forest buffers sensitive wetland habitat from pollution and has begun welcoming an array of migratory songbirds.

What TNC Is Doing

TNC manages the preserve as a natural area, allowing controlled public use. Reforestation efforts over the years have improved habitat for many migratory songbirds and buffered sensitive wetlands from runoff.

In December 2018 TNC planted 9,000 native trees on 30 acres of former agricultural fields. An additional 2,700 trees will be planted on nine additional acres by volunteers in the spring of 2019. These 39 acres of former corn and soybean fields account for more than 25 percent of the land at the preserve. Native tree species that were planted include black oak, red oak, Pin oak, swamp white oak, white oak, chestnut oak, chokeberry, persimmon, dogwood, and black cherry. Eventually, new trails will be added to these areas.

The restoration project is designed to improve the quality of water moving into the Broadkill River through the elimination of agricultural runoff and groundwater transfer of nutrients into the river. The native tree species selected for the project will create new habitat for wildlife, including migratory birds. An article about this tree planting project was written by the Cape Gazette. 


The McCabe Preserve is open to the public daily from dawn to dusk. Please park in the designated parking area and sign in at the registry book.

While on the McCabe preserve, please DO:

  • Take precautions against ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, and sunburn.
  • We suggest sturdy footwear; tuck pant legs into socks/shoes; insect repellant; sun protection; and drinking water. Watch for poison ivy.
  • Stay on marked trails.
  • Remove all litter from the preserve. This is a “carry-in carry-out” preserve. Trash barrels are not provided.
  • Leave your pets at home – this preserve functions as a protected wildlife area for native plants and animals.
  • Have fun exploring nature.

Please DO NOT:

  • Feed or disturb wildlife.
  • Hunt, trap, fish, dig, pick or otherwise remove plants, animals or other artifacts from the preserve.
  • Bring motorized vehicles, ATVs, bicycles, horses, onto the preserve, except in the designated parking area off Road 257.
  • Bring alcohol or firearms on the preserve.
  • Camp, make fires, or smoke while visiting the preserve.
  • Swim in the river.

The Milton-McCabe Preserve Greenway Trail links the historic town of Milton with the Conservancy’s Edward H. McCabe Nature Preserve. Beginning at the Milton Memorial Park boat launch, a canoe trail winds two miles down the Broadkill River to the preserve. There it joins a three-mile hiking trail system. A roadside parking area provides access to the hiking trails for non-canoeists.

Canoeing the Broadkill River

Canoeing along the Broadkill offers a unique perspective on this important river corridor. Mixed hardwood and cedar forests line the river banks, flanked by a mosaic of agricultural lands. Large red maple, blackgum, sweetgum, loblolly pine, and occasional Atlantic white cedars overhang the river banks. Their brilliant fall foliage is a delight, and streamside forests serve important ecological functions — providing wildlife habitat, filtering storm water runoff and stabilizing riverbanks with vast root systems. 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.

Close to the preserve, the character of the river landscape begins to shift. Freshwater tidal marshes and scrub-shrub wetlands form broad transition zones between the river and its forested banks. The globally rare seaside alder is found here. While in flower in autumn, seaside alder is readily discernible from its common associate, smooth alder. Most of the world’s population of seaside alder are found on the Delmarva Peninsula.

In spring, listen for the distinctive croak of the green frog, twanging like a loose banjo string. This frog depends on shallow freshwater habitats along the Broadkill. Approximately two miles downriver of the put-in at Milton Memorial Park, look for the McCabe Nature Preserve canoe dock on the south side of the river. Please tie your boat up and come ashore.

Dock Rules

A new floating dock was installed at the McCabe Preserve in the winter of 2018. The dock is for use by non-motorized vessels only including kayaks, canoes, and stand-up-paddleboards. Visitors are invited to use the dock during normal preserve hours (dawn to dusk). No fishing or swimming is allowed from the dock or adjacent shorelines. A picnic table is available for use near the dock; please take your trash with you.  

Hiking the McCabe Nature Preserve

Just minutes from Milton, the Conservancy’s Edward H. McCabe Nature Preserve is a pastoral 143-acre refuge. Hiking around the preserve will reveal 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. Don't forget the trail map.