Emergent wetlands at the Pemberton Forest Preserve, Delaware
Wetlands at Pemberton Forest Emergent wetlands at the Pemberton Forest Preserve, Delaware © Steven Billups

Places We Protect

Pemberton Forest Preserve

Delaware

Expanding protected areas, tract by tract, benefits a respite for humans and nature.

Overview

In a world where dividing and conquering has become the norm, the Pemberton Forest Preserve represents a place where The Nature Conservancy is putting things back together. This began in 1999 when the Conservancy acquired the first of two parcels that make up the preserve, the Pemberton Tract and the Ponders Tract. 

Note: While the preserve’s Pemberton Tract is not open to the public, the Ponders Tract has plenty of trails suitable for the public’s enjoyment.

The 456-acre Pemberton Tract, purchased from Chesapeake Lumber, gave the preserve its name. Situated in the midst of forest lands owned by the State of Delaware, privately owned rural properties and tree farms, this modest beginning permanently protected some of Delaware’s most significant plant and animal communities. 

Owing to its former history as a tree farm, much of the Pemberton Tract contains patches of native upland deciduous forest interspersed with thick stands of young loblolly pine. A wide section of relatively undisturbed native mixed hardwood forest growing on soft and highly erodible sloped soils protects a headwaters stream. Original logging roads present when the Conservancy purchased this tract are rapidly returning to a natural forest community, making the Pemberton Tract landscape difficult to traverse. 

Five years after purchasing the Pemberton Tract, the Conservancy added the 908-acre Ponders Tract to the preserve. Since acquiring the Ponders Tract in 2004, the Conservancy thinned a former loblolly pine plantation, planted habitat islands and planted thousands of native hardwood tree seedlings as a way of welcoming back the native coastal hardwood forest that once covered the landscape. While reforestation will take years, the Conservancy hopes it will serve as a model for future efforts across the state.