Enjoy the Michael Castle Trail: 13.2 miles along the C&D Canal
Sep 09, 2015 10:26AM
By Steven Hoffman
The trail passes through Summit Marina.
By Carla Lucas
Reedy Point Bridge, St. George's Bridge, the Roth Bridge, the Summit Bridge and the Chesapeake City Bridge all cross the C&D Canal. How many times have you crossed the canal over one of those bridges? Multiple times a day? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly?
Of all those bridge crossings, have you ever thought about what it would be like to spend time along the canal instead of quickly speeding over it? The Michael Castle Trail, a new trail along the northern bank of the canal, gives you an opportunity to experience nature.
“When complete, the trail will be one of the longest uninterrupted trails in Delaware,” said Eric Ludwig, the regional manager for the Delaware Fish and Wildlife Division, the organization that manages the new trail. “The trail provides better access for people to enjoy time outside and to view wildlife. There are no vehicles allowed on the trail that can interfere with pedestrian safety.”
A variety of habitats can be experienced along the trail. Wetlands highlight the route from Delaware City to where the trail meets the C&D Canal. It follows the waterway to Summit Marina. On the western side of the marina, the trail traverses woodlands of mature locust and tulip poplar trees before returning to the canal.
According to Jeff Dayton, a member of Michael Castle's staff, when Castle served as a U.S. Congressman, the idea for a trail along the C&D Canal was brought to his attention about a decade ago. Wayne Smith, who was then a Delaware State Representative, and Tim Plemmons of Delaware Greenway, approached Castle with an idea to build a trail along the canal, similar to a successful project in Cape Cod, Mass. It was intended to connect Delaware City, Del., to Chesapeake City, Md., with a multi-use trail along the canal -- 13.2 miles from town to town. The goal was to turn what was once a dirt road used mostly by hunters and fishermen into a paved and maintained trail for all to enjoy.
“The canal was mostly a marker,” explained Dayton. “You'd talk about being upstate above the canal, or downstate below the canal. We wanted people to think about the canal.”
In the early stages, there were public meetings with various user groups of the lands around the canal, including hunters, bikers, equestrians, moto-cross riders, walkers, boaters, and dog trainers to determine how a project of this magnitude would impact their activities.
“It was easy to get done,” said Castle. “There was general support for the trail. Most people thought it made good economic sense for the surrounding communities, and it would be a new outlet for people to enjoy the outdoors.”
There was no cost of land acquisition, since the property surrounding the C&D Canal was already owned by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, leased to Delaware, and managed by the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. The lease was modified to allow the trail on the land. Funding to create and complete the trail came from both state and federal sources.
Multiple government agencies are playing a role in turning the concept into reality. Delaware Fish and Wildlife is managing the Delaware portion of the trail. DelDOT did the actual construction of the paved trail. Delaware State Parks provides assistance with the management of the trail. Delaware City will build the bridge to connect the trail to their town. The Army Corps of Engineers designed and built the Maryland portion of the trail, and Chesapeake City has agreed to maintain the Maryland section.
Through an act of Congress, and with the help of Delaware's Congressional representatives – Tom Carper, Chris Coons, and John Carney – the trail was named the Michael Castle Trail.
“It was a surprise,” said Castle, “as no one consulted me. I appreciate it."
To date, Phases 1 and 2 are complete, opening much of the trail in Delaware's 11-mile portion. Maryland's section is scheduled to officially open on Oct. 5. This fall, construction of Phase 3, the trail from near Summit Bridge to Maryland, will be completed. Finally, within the next year, a bridge crossing the wetlands to Delaware will finally link the two towns that anchor the C&D Canal.
According to Ludwig, trail use is increasing each year. Last year, the trail had 22,000 visits. The numbers are expected to increase as more of the trail is completed and word spreads of its existence.
Access to the trail is available with improved parking areas at St. Georges and Biddles Point. This fall, a third parking area is expected to be added at Summit Bridge. The trail can also be accessed at Summit Marina. A map of the area is available online by going to destateparks.com and searching “Michael Castle Trail.”
“The trail is a beneficial asset for our state, district, and neighbors,” said Castle. “It gives people the opportunity to see a part of Delaware they've never seen before. Most have only crossed the bridges over the canal. Now the trail allows for more and more people to experience nature along the C&D Canal.”