By Molly Murray
A federal initiative to prioritize federally supported conservation and recreation initiatives includes two Delaware projects -- one that focuses on the founding history of the state and another on the international reputation of the Delaware Bay shore as a stopover for shorebirds.
In addition, a third project -- the John Smith Water Trail -- has a Delaware connection because Smith's 17th-century journey up Chesapeake Bay included a side trip into Broad Creek -- to an area believed to be near modern-day Phillips Landing. That project is on the Maryland priority list.
The state designations -- each state got two -- include no guarantees of federal funding, nor are there new initiatives proposed.
Instead, federal officials intend to use existing resources to help the states move ahead with their projects.
The priority list is part of a 50-state report that showcases some of the country's initiatives to reconnect people with the outdoors.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said it is unique because federal officials meet with representatives in each state to outline priorities.
The two Delaware projects include Sen. Tom Carper's initiative to bring a national park to Delaware. Under that proposal, a number of historic sites would be linked to tell the story of how the state was settled and how that early settlement fits in with the bigger story of early American life.
The second proposal, recommended by state environmental Secretary Collin O'Mara, would link the vast public holdings of land along the Delaware Bay to create something akin to a national seashore. The idea is to focus on ecotourism and passive recreation in the ecologically sensitive area.
"Delaware's rich history and environmental beauty tell an important story that should be told on a national stage," Carper said. "By including our proposal for a national park in Delaware in the America's Great Outdoors initiative, Secretary Salazar and the president are helping to move our state another step closer toward the reality of a national park that preserves and teaches the lessons of our state's heritage."
O'Mara was out of state and not available for comment, but he outlined the state's proposal in a July letter to Department of the Interior officials.
"Many experienced birders and avid hunters know that Delaware's Bayshore natural areas and agricultural landscape offer some of the very best birding and hunting on the East Coast. Extensive undeveloped coastal marshes, beaches and agriculture lands support more than 1/2 million shorebirds during both the spring and fall migration. ... We believe this region is worthy of designation as America's first 'National Bayshore,' " he wrote.
In O'Mara's proposal, the bayshore would encompass thousands of acres, from Delaware City south to Cape Henlopen State Park. An estimated 58 percent of the land already is protected through state, federal or private conservation organizations.
O'Mara also pointed out that this is the 40th anniversary of Delaware's landmark Coastal Zone Act -- a law that prohibits new industrial development along the coast.
Projects in all 50 states will be a part of the America's Great Outdoors Initiative -- a plan that targets what federal officials believe are projects that represent "the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the country."
The two Delaware projects will be included in President Barack Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative report to be released in the next few week.
"Under America's Great Outdoors Initiative, we are listening to the people of Delaware and communities across America and working with them on locally based projects that will conserve the beauty and health of our land and water and open up more opportunities for people to enjoy them," Salazar said.
State and federal officials believe the Delaware national park initiative would increase tourism and provide urban recreational opportunities.
The national park proposal links four interpretative centers to sites that tell the story of Delaware's earliest European settlement. Under the plan, state and local officials and the National Park Service would manage the centers.
The First State National Historic Park Act was introduced in 2009. Congressional approval is still needed. Delaware is the only state without a national park.
The Delaware National Bayshore proposal would draw on the global significance of Delaware Bay as a stopover for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds and as the epicenter of horseshoe crab spawning on the East Coast.
Under this project, state officials would work with federal Interior Department officials to link existing conserved land, restore damaged areas and provide low-impact access.
State officials see this project as an important step in increasing ecotourism and protecting the natural habitat in the corridor.