Provides environmental education to Indian River students

One of Sussex County nature lovers’ best-kept secrets has received funding to improve trails and education.

The James Farm Ecological Preserve, off Cedar Neck Road in Ocean View, is owned by Sussex County and managed by the nonprofit Center for the Inland Bays. The center works to protect and restore the preserve’s ecosystems for educational and recreational use.

James Farm offers three miles of trails through seven distinct habitats, three observation platforms, a boardwalk beach crossing, wildflower gardens, an amphitheater, an informational kiosk and rest areas. Over 4,000 trees have been planted since the center took over in 1998.

It was originally developed into a preserve before Sussex County’s population boom. A master plan was later created to accommodate the increase in visitors while protecting ecosystems and enhancing education and outreach opportunities.

Phase one was completed in spring 2019. Improvements included expanded parking, an enhanced welcome area, enhanced trail gateways and a multi-purpose lawn for recreation and outreach programs.

Indoor space for educational programs at the preserve remained limited. Bad weather would disrupt programs like “Day on the Bay.”

James Farm’s premier educational program, Day on the Bay was established in 2000 as a partnership with the Indian River School District. Since then, 19,000 students have taken the program, which uses curriculum-aligned environmental education to teach about the importance of the Inland Bays.

“By providing our students with access to James Farm and events such as ‘Day on the Bay,’ we are deepening student understanding of grade-level standards and broadening their interaction with of our local environment, in the hopes that they become life-long learners and advocates in their community,” said Indian River School District Director of Secondary Education Renee Jerns.

In January, the Center for the Inland Bays and the county received a grant of $82,250 from the Delaware Department of Natural Resource’s Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Trails Program. The money will be used for phase two of the master plan.

It includes new environmental education facilities, trail realignments to improve walkability, new educational signs, permanent restrooms and adequate storage and maintenance areas.

Right now, phase two is being designed. Construction is expected to begin in the spring and last a year.