Pemberton Forest Preserve

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 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.

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.


1,364 acres located in two distinct tracts: the 456-acre Pemberton Tract and the 908-acre Ponders Tract


North-central Sussex County

What’s At Stake

With only 20 percent of Delaware’s forests remaining in the midst of rapid development, establishing the Pemberton Forest Preserve could not have happened at a better time. The preserve provides refuge for more than 40 rare plant and animal species, including the only occurrence in Delaware of the Curly-grass Fern. It also possesses some of the highest quality Atlantic white cedar swamps and bogs in the state as well as a significant amount of upland forest containing numerous old growth trees.


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.


Acquired the 456-acre Pemberton Tract from the Chesapeake Lumber Company in 1999. Added the 908-acre Ponders Tract, formerly owned by the Glatfelter Pulpwood Company, to the preserve in 2004.


Restoring habitat; Monitoring and controlling non-native invasive weed species


Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s (DNREC) Natural Heritage Program, Division of Parks and Recreation, Delaware Forest Service


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