Group Photo from a volunteer day at Ponders Tract with Chesapeake Utilities.
Chesapeake Utilities Volunteer Group Photo from a volunteer day at Ponders Tract with Chesapeake Utilities. © Robert Merhaut


Volunteers from Chesapeake Utilities and Dogfish Head Spruce Up Delaware’s Public Preserves for Summer Visitors

Wilmington, DE

Visitors to The Nature Conservancy’s two public preserves in Delaware will notice improvements to trails and parking areas thanks to the help of volunteers from Chesapeake Utilities and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery this spring. The volunteers provided about 300 hours of service, or the equivalent of about two months of a full-time staff member’s work hours. Land Steward Natasha Whetzel said, “It’s really amazing to see what the volunteers from Dogfish Head and Chesapeake Utilities can accomplish in just one day when we have so many people helping on these large-scale projects.”

In April, thirty co-workers from Dogfish Head volunteered at the Edward H. McCabe Preserve as part of the company’s annual Beer and Benevolence Day. Teams worked to stain the fence around the parking lot, built new bog bridges on wet sections of trails, cut back greenbriar, and picked up trash along the shore of the Broadkill River and trails. The biggest project of the day involved cleaning up the area around the new floating dock.

Heavy equipment was required for the dock installation in March and several trees had to be cut down to make the area accessible to the machinery. The Dogfish co-workers cleaned up the large piles of logs and branches and planted new native trees and shrubs. They also reinstalled the McCabe Preserve sign near the new dock that welcomes visitors who arrive by boat.

“Our Dogfish co-workers loved getting a chance to get their hands dirty for TNC at McCabe Preserve during our annual Benevolence Day,” said Mark Carter of Dogfish Head’s Beer and Benevolence program. “Everyone came back with a story about how lucky we are to have a protected area of nature so close to the brewery with nice trails and access to the Broadkill River.” 

Several weeks later, in early May, staff from Chesapeake Utilities spent a sweaty day making enhancements to the Ponders Tract Preserve. More than thirty staff members, and several of their children, worked to cut back immature loblolly pines trees from the edges of trails and the parking lot, filled in several large muddy puddles on the main trail, and fixed deer fencing that was falling down. There are two fenced areas within the preserve where volunteers planted 600 Atlantic white cedar seedlings last year. Deer love to eat Atlantic white cedar seedlings so the restrictive fencing is necessary for at least a few more years.

Additionally, the Chesapeake volunteers planted more than 60 native trees and shrubs in an expansive new planter in the center of the parking lot. After planting, the volunteers spread mulch over the area to help with weed control and moisture retention in the soil. The vegetation that was planted showcases what the forest at Ponders Tract should look like after further forest restoration efforts. The Nature Conservancy acquired the 908-acre Ponders Tract Preserve in 2004 from a timber company which had planted most of the property plantation-style with loblolly pine trees. Currently, there are still portions of the preserve where the loblolly pines dominate the landscape, instead of a natural mix of hardwoods and pines that would have existed naturally.

Now, visitors to the preserve will see black cherry, red oak, hickories, highbush and lowbush blueberry, white oak, sassafras, holly, pin oak, dogwood, bayberry, and more, growing in the planter. Director of Conservation Sarah Cooksey said that she’s pleased to see all the upgrades at Ponders Tract come together for the summer. “The parking area is more welcoming to visitors now, first with the new kiosk that we had installed last summer and now with this beautiful planter filled with a variety of native trees,” said Sarah. “If our land steward had attempted this project on her own, she would have been working on it for several days. When you get a big group to help with large projects you can see the results after just a few hours; it’s so satisfying for everyone involved,” she added.

Steve Thompson is the Vice-Chair of The Nature Conservancy in Delaware and Senior Vice President of Chesapeake Utilities Corporation. Steve was among the volunteers from Chesapeake Utilities who volunteered their time at Ponders Tract. Eventually, interpretive signage will also be added around the new raised-bed in the parking lot which will explain the history of the preserve and provide details about the native vegetation.

“Chesapeake Utilities strongly believes in giving back to the communities it serves and is proud to be partnering with The Nature Conservancy in Delaware,” said Steve. “This year marks the fourth year that Chesapeake team members have participated in volunteer workdays at TNC’s preserves, including Milford Neck and Ponders Tract. Over the last four years nearly 150 employees have volunteered more than 500 total man-hours.” 

If your company is interested in participating in a group volunteer effort, please contact Sarah Cooksey, director of conservation programs. Volunteer opportunities for individuals and small groups that are open to the public can be found on the Events and Volunteering page. Volunteer opportunities are also listed as events on The Nature Conservancy in Delaware’s Facebook page. You can also sign up to receive a monthly email from TNC, called Great Places Newsletter (GPN),which provides information about upcoming events and the latest news about Delaware’s programs and projects. 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.