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 Nature Conservancy and its partners have protected an estimated 20 percent of the Nanticoke River watershed, including in southern Delaware at TNC’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.
22-Acre Reforestation Project
In 2019, TNC reforested 22 acres of former agricultural lands at the Middleford North Preserve with 7,150 native trees and shrubs. This National Fish and Wildlife (NFWF)-funded project aims to increase and improve headwater forest habitat in the Nanticoke River watershed. Ultimately, this increased forest cover will help improve water quality in the Gravelly Branch of the Nanticoke River which is a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. The area will also provide new habitat for local wildlife and migratory birds.
Land Steward Natasha Whetzel says the trees planted include a mix of shortleaf pine, southern red oak, blackjack oak, black oak, white oak, chestnut oak, mockernut hickory and persimmon as well as highbush and lowbush blueberries.
Funding for this project is provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
A Home for Imperiled Species
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.