Highbush blueberry at Ponders Tract in Delaware.
Highbush Blueberry Highbush blueberry at Ponders Tract in Delaware. © John Hinkson

Places We Protect

Ponders Tract

Delaware

Take a front row seat to the varying stages of forest succession.

In 2004, five years after establishing the Pemberton Forest Nature Preserve with the Pemberton Tract, the Conservancy acquired the 908-acre Ponders Tract from the Glatfelter Pulpwood Company. The Ponders Tract’s strategic location adjacent to the already established preserve and near the Redden State Forest provided an opportunity for expanding unbroken habitat for migrating birds and wide-ranging species. The Tract also contains two headwater streams for the Broadkill River which flows into the Delaware Bay.

Soon after acquiring the Ponders Tract, the Conservancy began an ambitious and aggressive restoration effort to reclaim coastal hardwood forests that once covered much of the site. Utilizing a mix of state-of-the art timber thinning, old-fashioned manual labor and prescribed fire, the Conservancy has transformed 240 acres of loblolly pine plantation into a native coastal forest of oak, hickory, tulip poplar, sassafras, red maple and other hardwoods.

In other parts of the tract, the Conservancy transformed former logging roads into more than nine miles of public trails. Accomplishments at the Ponders Tract Trail System are largely due to volunteers, who put in an enormous amount of time planting trees, building the kiosk, clearing trails, constructing and installing benches, putting up trail and interpretive signs, and monitoring conditions.

Thanks to generous funding from partners and members, and time donated by dedicated by volunteers, the Ponders Tract Trail System provides people with the opportunity to view and appreciate birds, deer, amphibians, snakes and an array of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies. In addition to thriving wildlife, the trails also provide a glimpse the tract’s diverse habitats, varying stages of forest succession, examples of active management and secluded spots where nature has been left to take its course. In winter, the Ponders Tract becomes a wonderland for birders and other animal watchers, with a variety of woodpeckers, nuthatches and interesting insects.

What’s At Stake

The Ponders Tract serves as a crucial stopover for neo-tropical birds such as the black-and-white warbler and ovenbird. The Tract also contains small wetlands and vernal ponds that harbor reptile and amphibian species including Fowler’s toad, southern leopard frog and the gray tree frog. Stands of Atlantic white cedar emerge from rivers and streams that eventually flow into the Delaware Bay. Hessel’s hairstreak, a rare and threatened butterfly, has been observed in this portion of the preserve, and the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel has been documented nearby. 

Threats

Rapid development in this region poses a threat to wildlife habitat, ground and surface water, and to farmers, fisherman, the tourism industry and others who depend on the surrounding landscape to support livelihoods and sustain the local economy.

Milestones

  • 2017 – The Nature Conservancy in Delaware conducted its first prescribed burn on forest lands in the chapter’s history on 110 acres of the Ponders Tract Preserve in April. Learn how fire can be used to help restore a more natural mix of trees to the property.
  • 2010 – Opened the Ponders Tract Trail System
  • 2007 – Planted habitat islands on 30 acres; Volunteers conducted avian point counts to determine which bird species use Ponders throughout the year.
  • 2004 – Acquired the Ponders Tract from Glatfelter Pulpwood Company; Began thinning a former loblolly pine plantation to make room for a native coastal hardwood forest.

Actions

Volunteers help with monitoring the Ponders Tract Trail System’s conditions, conduct trail work and look for the presence of non-native invasive weed species

Partners

USDA Forests Service Forest Legacy Program, State of Delaware, Sussex County Land Trust, Delaware Landowner Incentive Program, Vision Forestry, Boy Scouts of America and the many volunteers who have helped to restore lands and provide trail side amenities

Trail System Improvements Donors

Bank of America
Delaware Community Foundation
Delaware River & Bay Authority
DuPont Clear into the Future
Mary Pat Meyer
Brett Snyder and Anna Quisel

PRESERVE GUIDELINES

The Ponder’s Tract 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 Ponder’s Tract, 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.
  • Bring alcohol or firearms on the preserve.
  • Camp, make fires, or smoke while visiting the preserve.

Observe nature in action

Walk along parts of more than nine miles of trails making up the Ponders Tract Trail System. Pack a lunch and relax at one of the trail side benches to listen to the natural world. Beginning in late April and through early summer, the calls of several frog species can readily be heard across the preserve. Species like spring peeper begin calling in late February while others like gray tree frog can be heard from late May into early June. Nature lovers more in tune to locating plants should search for pond pine, and other plants uncommon in Delaware. 

Watch birds

Grab the binoculars and take advantage of excellent bird watching opportunities, especially during April and May when many species of neotropical migrants pass through Delaware. Some of these migrants make their summer homes at Ponders while others are moving north to their breeding grounds. 

Volunteer!

Get involved at Ponders! With over 9 miles of trails there is always plenty to do to ensure that our visitors have a quality experience at Ponders.

Plan Your Visit

The Ponders Tract Trail System is open to the public from dawn to dusk from February through late summer. The Conservancy closes the Ponders Tract Trail System during hunting season to maintain healthy deer populations, and prevent over browse within mature and newly established forestlands.

Check in at the trail head kiosk for additional information about the preserve and add your comments on our Preserve log .