Two Delaware Bay communities positioned to get federal investment
Armed with three studies, places like Milford and Slaughter Beach can make their case for investment and not be outgunned by larger communities.

| April 11, 2023

More than a dozen partners have put their collective shoulders to the wheel to allow two Delaware communities to fight above their weight class to address encroaching development and the relentless onslaught of sea-level rise.

The city of Milford and the town of Slaughter Beach lie about 70 miles south of Wilmington, and can boast of their connection to the vast marshlands that are such a signature part of life here near the Delaware Bay. Threaded through the marshes are the waterways of Mispillion Creek, Cedar Creek and the Delaware Bay, which are key areas to be marketed.

Cedar Creek, Delaware.

Cedar Creek, with the Mispillion River, is one of the places targeted for promoting tourism. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Though the two communities are about six miles apart, the marshes shove mere roads aside and it’s a journey of about 10 miles from one to the other.

That they are near the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge gives some indication of the importance of the marshes to birds. The bay shore is part of an international flyway for migrating birds.

We all know one of the stars of this avian community — the tiny Red Knot — which flies more than 9,000 miles from south to north every spring, then reverses the trip every autumn. (More here). 

It gets its fuel for the northern trek in the spring from the eggs of horseshoe crabs, which come ashore in the spring to spawn. (More here).

The coalition of partners is called the Waterways Infrastructure & Investment Network

It received a grant from (bear with this, a lot of names are coming up but nothing happens without collaboration): the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s National Coastal Resilience Fund grant of $220,000 to study this area. 

These studies are capped by the release of an “Ecotourism and Resilience Investments Strategy for the Mispillion and Cedar Creek Watersheds.”

There were about 25 people at Milford’s Bicentennial Park last month to announce the release of that study, the last of three, which detail how ecotourism and other nature-based investments can sustain and enhance benefits to this region for generations to come.

Armed with these studies, these small communities can make their case for investment and not be outgunned by larger communities.

“They now have the capacity to go after competitive federal grants, which otherwise would have been hard for them,” said Jana Savini from the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. 

PDE was the project’s administrator and fiscal agent. But, according to the audience, that doesn’t quite do justice to Savini’s key role in keeping the project alive when it seemed to be flagging.

Another mainstay in the project, Danielle Swallow, Coastal Hazards Specialist for Delaware Sea Grant, said the report celebrated the culture and heritage of these communities, which are threatened not just by the obvious problem of sea-level rise, but by the increase in the height of tides and the height of the water table below ground.

“Now, it’s time for the communities to go forward,” she said, adding that it was up to those communities to “make sure that this report doesn’t just sit on a shelf gathering dust.”

Woman in blue windbreaker.

Danielle Swallow, from Delaware Sea Grant, stands beside one of two new marketing posters. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

She noted that each community has already developed a conservation ethic, aware of the value of their physical geography.

The WIIN coalition aimed to increase the capacity of each town to attract partners and investment to the region.

It has also generated related initiatives, including the submission of a grant application to develop a contiguous bike path between the two communities, a demonstration project in Slaughter Beach to test the feasibility of growing oyster spat for aquaculture purposes, and a comprehensive coastal resilience planning effort between Slaughter Beach and the University of Delaware’s Coastal Resilience Design Studio.

Ben Monastero, a resident of Slaughter Beach, praised the bayside town: “You can walk the beaches, watch birds, enjoy the pristine environment — and avoid the crowds you find on the ocean beaches farther south.”

“The Mispillion River runs right through our city,” Milford Mayor Archie Campbell said. “It was always an important part of our downtown and maritime heritage, but now we have a better understanding of its value and how it contributes to our quality of life.”

His view was echoed by Slaughter Beach Mayor Bob Wood, who said: “I like that this plan recognizes that the natural resources in Slaughter Beach are too important not to protect. The WIIN strategy is about balancing economic opportunity with conservation and finding ways to be more resilient so that everyone gains. This effort is a game- changer for us.”

Tall man in a baseball cap wearing a blue shirt.

Bob Wood, mayor of Slaughter Beach. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Here’s another litany of names, but this type of collaboration needs many hands:

The WIIN coalition is comprised of the Delaware Resilient and Sustainable Communities League (RASCL), Delaware Sea Grant, the project’s manager; the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, which authored the economic study and investment strategy; and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, the project’s administrative and fiscal agent, which also developed a vulnerability assessment tool for the coalition. 

With the City of Milford, the Town of Slaughter Beach, and The Pew Charitable Trusts, WIIN won that $220,000 grant. 

Slaughter Beach firehouse sign warns about turtle crossing.

The sign outside the Slaughter Beach firehouse asks drivers to be on the lookout for turtles crossing the street. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Other coalition partners include: Southern Delaware Tourism, the Nature Conservancy, Delaware Nature Society, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Sussex County, Kent County, I.G. Burton, David Burton, and Tony Pratt. 

Ben Muldrow of Arnett, Muldrow & Associates developed the branding and marketing strategy.

Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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