Relaxing, Nature-Based Wanderings in Wilmington, Delaware

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Until Joe Biden’s inauguration, his hometown of Wilmington barely made the must-see list. In fact, this small town has long been considered by some to be rather ho-hum. But now people are paying attention, especially nature lovers. That’s because Wilmington (and the surrounding countryside) has been blessed with a myriad of expansive and stellar gardens (some quite historic), often courtesy of the Bridges. But, on my recent visit, I enveloped myself in other nature-based places beyond the prominent gardens which grab all the attention of tourists.

Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge

Whether you rent a bike or bring your own, start your ride early by pedaling about a mile and a half of Wilmington’s scenic Riverwalk with its welcoming cafes and restaurants, waterfront benches and a small rock garden. at the water’s edge with slate walkways. Here, I briefly left my bike along the outskirts of the path and wandered around, noticing a tiny man-made waterfall, rough stone benches made of Delaware stone (sillimanite), and many labeled plants, such as sumac in deer horns, purple-crowned vetch and Chinese clover.

Continuing my walk, I soon arrived at the Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge. There I locked my bike and explored the walk loop, winding above a scenic tidal swamp. It’s a good spot for bird watching, so you’ll want to have binoculars handy. If you’re patient (and lucky) and depending on the time of year, you might spot great blue herons, great egrets, girdled kingfishers, and mallards.

Whether before or after your wanderings here, DuPont’s Contemporary Environmental Education Center is worth a visit to learn more about the region’s biodiversity and the ecosystem where everything from river otters to beavers thrives. This 200+ acre freshwater tidal marsh that adjoins the Christina River is also habitat for a variety of different plants, such as milkweed, wild rice, hibiscus, and cattails. The river itself is vital to the region, supplying most of the water to New Castle County. Additionally, striped bass are known to spawn in this body of water, which flows into the Delaware River.

The signage along the boardwalk provides lessons in ecology, including why the state of Delaware is threatened with flooding with rising sea levels. After all, it’s only 60 feet below sea level. above sea level.

If you are visiting on a weekday and there are no school groups, you will find yourself surrounded by wetlands, with lots of peace and seclusion as you sit on one of the many benches.

Jack A. Markell Trail

I continued to cycle from the Refuge, which is the start of the scenic Jack A. Markell Railroad Track named after two-term Governor Markell. (He was a major advocate for the development of cycle and walking paths.) This short urban path follows the now-abandoned former corridor of the former Delaware branch of the PW&B (Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore) railroad and ends in ends at historic New Castle, Delaware’s first capital. Over a length of nearly 13 km, joggers, cyclists, parents pushing strollers and dog walkers comfortably share the course. You’ll have views of the Wilmington skyline and walk through sections bordered by occasional wetlands and clusters of forests. Railroad enthusiasts will enjoy crossing a bridge spanning the Christina River, considered the longest in the state dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists. (It rests on the original foundations of the railway bridge.)

Although many cyclists just speed up this corridor, it is best to take it easy, spending time noticing interesting flora and fauna as well as historical features. Well-placed benches provide the opportunity to sit and pay attention. I listened to the sound of a woodpecker drumming and was able to identify a male red-winged blackbird by its bright red and yellow epaulettes. (I have also learned from the trail signage that the common cattails that grow provide a necessary nesting area for these birds.) Another interesting foliage you can spot includes the Turk’s lily, a native flower that displays beautiful pink and orange flowers. Facts abound along this railroad, including this Joe-Pye herb, named after a Native American, distinguished by its vivid purple and pink flowers as well as its medicinal properties. (It was once used to treat typhoid.) At a time when all was very calm, the hissing song of a northern cardinal pierced the silence, as a cottontail rabbit hopped in the grass.

I found the last section of this railroad to be the most idyllic as it walks through dense forests which provide the necessary shade on a hot, sunny day. Once at the terminus, take some time to stroll past the charming brick dwellings and manicured gardens of the historic New Castle, founded by the Dutch in the 17th century.

The Auberge at Montchanin Village & Spa

This charming property located a short drive from downtown Wilmington could not be better named. After all, it’s a converted 18th-century village that housed everything from a smithy to a school. The century-old structures were residential dwellings that once housed those who worked in the nearby DuPont Powder Mill. These have been resurrected as luxury accommodation (many with porches) in buildings featuring a variety of architectural styles since the hamlet has evolved over time. However, a Victorian atmosphere predominates in the bucolic layout. The gardens with blossoming flowers invite guests to sit for a while on the scattered wrought-iron benches, some shaded by evergreens and other trees. Stroll along the alleys where you will be captivated (depending on the season) by a rainbow of colors, thanks to red begonias, purple sage, yellow dahlias and an abundance of tulips. Don’t miss the whimsical elements, such as a curved rug of manicured grass, metallic sculptures of scattered giraffes and crows, and inspirational quotes (“Dance like no one is watching”) inscribed on plaques.


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