Places We Protect

Ponders Tract


Delicate white blooms hang down from the ends of thin branches.
Highbush Blueberry Highbush blueberry at Ponders Tract in Delaware. © John Hinkson

The Ponders Tract Trail System offers excellent bird watching opportunities along more than nine miles of trails.

Ponders Tract in the News

Largest Atlantic White Cedar Discovered (1:34) Delaware's largest Atlantic white cedar tree was recently discovered at our Ponders Tract Trail System. These trees provide critical habitat to endangered species like the Hessel's hairstreak butterfly, recently spotted at our preserve.

Delaware’s Largest Atlantic White Cedar Discovered at Ponders Tract

Read the full press release about this thrilling conservation win.



In 2004, five years after establishing the Pemberton Forest Nature Preserve with the Pemberton Tract, TNC 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.

Thanks to generous funding from partners and members, and time donated by dedicated by volunteers, the Ponders Tract Trail System provides visitors 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 into 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.

Leashed dogs are allowed at the Ponders Tract. Please be sure to bring waste bags to clean up after your dog and take your trash with you. Ticks can be found at the preserve in large numbers from the early spring to late fall—always check yourself and your dogs for ticks after being outdoors. Staying on the trail can help reduce exposure to ticks.




Open daily from dawn to dusk.


See birds, deer, amphibians, snakes and an array of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies.


908 acres

Explore our work in Delaware

Views from Ponders Tract

Featuring rare birds and plant life, there is so much to explore at Ponders Tract.

Three Pink Lady Slippers bloom on a forest floor.
A sandy cleared path cuts through a tree line.
A blue colored bird with black wings sits on a milkweed plant with a pink flower.
A green snake makes its way accorss a sandy floor.
Small white flowers grow off of a branch hanging downward.
A view from the forest floor looking up at a tree canopy.
A green fern grows from a brown forest floor.
Several tall and thin trees gorw in a forest.
Two signs mark the way for trails at Ponders Tract Preserve. The sign pointing to the left reads, Pemberton Loop. The sign on the right reads Ponders Road.
A black and blue winged butterfy rests on pine needles.

Visitor Information

  • Hike or Trail Run

    Ponders Tract offers over nine miles of low-elevation trails for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you prefer hiking or trail running, this natural oasis provides a serene escape. The soft and sandy trails wind through diverse habitats, allowing you to immerse yourself in nature. Trail runners will appreciate the gentle terrain and scenic surroundings. The soft trails are perfect for a leisurely jog or a brisk run.

    As you explore, keep an eye out for wildlife, including deer, amphibians, snakes and an array of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies. Leashed dogs are welcome, so bring your furry companion along for the adventure.


    Ponders Tract is a haven for avian enthusiasts. Download the Ponders Tract bird list, and head in to nature. During April and May, migratory songbirds pass through Delaware, making this the ideal time for birdwatching. Look out for scarlet tanagers, white-eyed vireos and red-eyed vireos. Some of these feathered travelers even choose Ponders Tract as their summer home.

    Hunting Opportunities

    Ponders Tract permits deer hunting from September 1 through January 31. Access is granted to select individuals. Please be sure to you’ve obtained the appropriate access to enjoy this unique opportunity.

  • Birds

    Before you embark on your birding adventure, make sure to download the Ponders Tract bird list featuring all of the diverse birdlife found at Ponders Tract.

    April and May are the months when Ponders Tract truly comes alive. Neotropical migrants pass through this area. Some of them choose Ponders as their summer haven, while others continue their northward journey to breeding grounds. Listen for their melodious calls and watch their colorful plumage as they flit among the trees.

    As you wander the trails, keep your ears attuned to nature’s symphony. Along Ingram Branch Way, keep an eye and hear out for indigo buntings, grey catbirds and oven birds. Along Piney Fork Lane, you’ll likely encounter Bobwhites announcing their presence and their distinctive call.

    Lucky visitors may also spot glimpses of rare migratory birds such as the blue-and-white vireo and blue-winged warbler, as well as the blue-headed vireo.


    Ponders Tract contains small wetlands and vernal ponds that are home to reptiles and amphibians such as Fowler’s toad, southern leopard frog and the gray tree frog.

    Thanks to the reformation work that has been taking place, Hessel’s hairstreak, a brightly colored and rare threatened butterfly, has been observed in stands of Atlantic white cedar at Ponders Tract.

    If you walk quietly along the Ingram Branch Way, you might see a snake basking on the trail on warm sunny days during the cooler months. Commonly seen snakes at this preserve include rat snakes, black racers, garter and Eastern hognose.


    Delaware’s largest Atlantic white cedar tree (Chamaecyparis thyoides) can be found at Ponders Tract, measuring 38 inches in diameter, this tree is a sight to behold.

    Starting in February you can see signs of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) as its unique mottled purple flower sprouts up in areas with wet soil. The large green leaves follow soon after but don't be surprised to see the flower growing up through ice and snow. Skunk cabbages are one of the few plants that exhibit thermogenesis, meaning they have the ability to raise their own temperature. Much like a warm-blooded mammal, the wildflower can regulate its temperature well above the outside temperature throughout the day and night.

    In late March you may start to notice little purple flowers growing on 3" to 6" tall plants along the sandy trails. The birds foot violet (Viola pedanta) does not reproduce vegetatively like most other violets; reproduction is by seed only.

    Arguably the most beautiful flower to bloom at Ponders Tract during the year, the pink lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule), starts blooming in late April. This member of the orchid family will bloom for several weeks, and are commonly found growing under pine trees. 

  • We are creating a community science database of all kinds of life—from lichens to ants, mushrooms to plants, birds to mammals and everything in between for our preserves in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

    TNC's roots began with local citizens and scientists concerned about special places and species. That legacy continues today. Across our lands, we are utilizing iNaturalist—a digital platform that gives users an opportunity to share and discuss their findings.

    Of the 14 preserve projects in iNaturalist, nine have observations recorded; help us increase that number and our understanding of the species—good and bad, native as well as invasive—that can be found on TNC lands across the state. This information can also help guide and inform our conservation staff's management and monitoring decisions.

  • 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 repellent; 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.
    • 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.
Aerial drone view looking down on a forest trail.
Volunteers in Action Volunteers from Chesapeake Utilities begin work along a trail. Many accomplishments at the Ponders Tract Trail System are due in large part to volunteers. © Robert Merhaut

Restoration at Ponders Tract

Reclaiming Coastal Forest

Soon after acquiring the Ponders Tract, TNC 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 controlled burns, TNC 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 2017, we conducted the first prescribed burn in the chapter's history on 110 acres of the preserve.

Science-based decision-making guides our forest restoration. Through carefully planned forest thinning and prescribed fire, we can restore a more natural mixed hardwood forest at the site of this former pine plantation. When loblolly pine trees are thinned out and removed from the forest to be sold as sustainably harvested timber, sunlight is able to reach the forest floor for the first time in many years. The return of sunlight allows native shrubs, grasses and flowers to flourish again. Native insects follow shortly thereafter, which means more available food for birds and other wildlife.

Controlled burning, also known as prescribed fire, encourages the growth of native vegetation, increases biodiversity, minimizes the spread of invasive species and recycles nutrients back into the soil. In 2023, after thinning and burning, Delaware Stewardship Manager Natasha Whetzel observed five rare orchids blooming in places where she had never seen them growing previously. State biologists visit Ponders Tract to look for rare plant and insect species in the high-quality habitat that is reemerging thanks to our long-term restoration efforts.

In other parts of the tract, TNC transformed former logging roads into more than nine miles of public trails, opening for public access in 2010. 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.


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.


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.


  • Bank of America
  • Delaware Community Foundation
  • Delaware River & Bay Authority
  • DuPont Clear into the Future
  • Mary Pat Meyer
  • Brett Snyder and Anna Quisel
A hunter wearing a blaze orange cap and vest.
Hunting at Nature Preserves A hunter and his dog on a TNC nature preserve. © The Nature Conservancy/Chris Helzer

Hunting on the Preserve

TNC permits deer hunting to maintain healthy deer populations and prevent over-browse within mature and newly established forestlands.

Active deer hunting takes place on this property from September 1 through January 31. This property is hunted only by individuals selected by the owner.

Hunting occurs seven days a week; Ponders Tract will be closed to the public during all firearm seasons, including muzzleloader, general firearm (also known as shotgun seasons), special antlerless, handgun and straight-walled pistol-caliber rifle and Youth and non-ambulatory. Please visit the State of Delaware’s website for a list of all firearm season dates.

Be smart, be safe! Please exercise a few safety precautions while visiting the preserve during hunting season:

  • Stay on established trails.
  • Wear blaze orange (or other bright colors).
  • Be alert for hunters.

Explore Nature

Need more nature? Visit some of TNC's other preserves.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

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