Study outlines Mispillion, Cedar Creek benefits and environmental challenges


Delaware’s Mispillion River and Cedar Creek watersheds provide benefits to the community valued at several million dollars annually, according to a new economic assessment released by The Environmental Finance Center (EFC) at the University of Maryland.  

The rivers and their surrounding waterways include some of the last remaining large tracts of undisturbed land. But, like so many coastal areas, this part of Delaware’s coast is under growing pressure from coastal development, sea-level rise, and storms of increasing frequency and severity, the study noted.

Similar pressures on the region’s resources are also coming from increasing interest in outdoor activities. Because outdoor recreation is beneficial to the region, planning to provide sustainable access to nature is important.

A broad coalition of governmental and environmental nonprofit entities known as the Waterways Infrastructure and Investment Network (WIIN) was formed last year to devise an investment strategy to capitalize on environmental opportunities while mitigating people-created threats.

This assessment is the first phase of the work. It was commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which is a member of WIIN.

The Delaware Bayshore offers recreational and ecotourism opportunities—including boating, fishing, hunting, wildlife, shorebird, and horseshoe crab viewing.

In addition, the watersheds provide crucial habitat for a range of wildlife and storm protection for surrounding communities. The historic commercial shipping industry, based in the Mispillion Harbor, is culturally important to the local community, and the Vinyard Shipyard in Milford aims to preserve the region’s maritime history, a release noted.

“This research underscores what residents and leaders of Delaware’s Bayshore have long known: The watersheds’ beauty, marine life, and recreational and historical resources are essential to the local way of life,” said Joseph Gordon, director of the conserving marine life in the United States project at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “We envision the research as the first step in creating a strategy that will boost the region’s economy, conserve its coastal resources, and improve the entire area’s resilience to sea-level rise.”

“Pew hopes that other Bayshore towns, along with coastal communities across the country, will follow the lead of the city of Milford, the town of Slaughter Beach, and Kent and Sussex counties and pursue integrated plans that advance economic and environmental resilience,” Gordon added.

Major attractions were identified through interviews with community members who have expertise in the area’s natural resources. Major assets that provide access to enjoy the nature and culture of the area include Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, Mispillion Riverwalk Greenway, Vineyard Shipyard, Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve BoardwalkMispillion HarborReserve, DuPont Nature Center, and Slaughter Beach. 

The report estimated that the benefit values for urban park leisure, hiking, and shorebird viewing alone are more than several million dollars annually.

Estimates of “environmental services,” such as the feeling of well-being while walking along a tree-lined river or the enjoyment of viewing endangered shorebirds in their natural habitat, is called “environmental service benefit valuation.”

Benefit values are substantial pieces in a larger calculation that can establish nature’s total economic value. This report focused on specific community-identified benefits to spotlight what makes the area unique in Delaware and the Bayshore.

WIIN is an offshoot of the larger Delaware Resilient and Sustainable Communities League (RASCL), a consortium of 22 entities, including nonprofits, academic institutions, and state agencies dedicated to helping Delaware communities improve how they respond to changing environmental conditions. 

In addition to Pew, organizations that are part of WIIN include the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control; the Delaware Nature Society; Delaware Sea Grant; Kent County; Milford; Partnership for the Delaware Estuary; Slaughter Beach; Sussex County; and the EFC. 

At 60 feet, Delaware has the lowest mean elevation of any U.S. state, and areas within it experience a rate of sea-level rise twice the international average, according to Delaware Sea Grant

Over the last century, the watersheds, including Milford and Slaughter Beach, have experienced considerable losses in forests and wetlands. 

The watersheds are bordered by national wildlife refuges and contain internationally recognized flyways for migrating birds, including the endangered Red Knot. 

Slaughter Beach is a horseshoe crab sanctuary and offers a spawning habitat to the 400-million-year old creatures. These resources are increasingly threatened. 

In addition to providing outdoor recreational opportunities and storm protection, wetlands and saltmarshes protect inland areas from storm surges and can reduce flooding.  

The project’s next phase will develop a management plan and identify community assets and natural resources at risk of flooding, sea-level rise, and changes in land use. 

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