This is part of WTOP’s coverage of the Delmarva beaches leading into the summer season. Read more.
Most people go to the beaches for the sand and the surf. But in Delaware, miles and miles of biking and walking trails run through the woods and marshes that haven’t been developed along Cape Henlopen.
People use them for exercise, and it’s also a shortcut around traffic. New developments are using them as selling points to link people to the beaches without having to drive along clogged and congested Coastal Highway.
Georgetown-Lewes Trail (8 miles)
“Within the last six or seven years, this whole multimodal approach has really expanded, with the Georgetown-Lewes Trail being the Cadillac for the area,” said Jeff Niezgoda, the assistant director for active transportation and community connections section with the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT).
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About seven miles of trail currently run from Lewes toward Georgetown, with construction continuing the rest of the way to the Sussex County seat of government. None of it takes you anywhere near Coastal Highway where traffic starts to slow down.
On a weekday afternoon earlier this month, hundreds of people were riding their bikes or going for walks along the Georgetown-Lewes Trail. “On a summer weekend, we can have over 3,000 people on a weekend day on the trail,” said Anthony Aglio, a planning supervisor with DelDOT.
“We want to be a destination,” Aglio said. “We want to work with Rehoboth and Lewes — where you come to a beach community, park your car once, navigate either by pedestrian facilities or by bike, bike trails, bike networks, and you don’t have to get back into your car until you’re ready to go.”
Access to the Georgetown-Lewes Trail, which runs along an old railroad line, is a selling point for developers trying to make the most of a building boom on both sides of Coastal Highway that’s been going on for decades.
“They want to build a connection, a formal connection to the trail,” said Aglio. “They can sell their new development as trail access — ‘You can get from this development to the beach; you can get to Rehoboth; you can get to the boardwalk,’ what have you — by a low stress-point network.”
“Once people find out where you can go on here, the word gets out,” said Niezgoda. “We’ve seen breweries pop up along the routes.”
Some of the access points of the trail have plenty of parking to allow visitors to park outside of town and ride their bike where they need to go, and avoid all the traffic.
Junction Breakwater Trail (5.8 miles)
The Junction Breakwater Trail, running between Rehoboth and Lewes, is run by Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources. It’s more wooded, with exit points to access some of the neighborhoods, as well as the outlets and other shopping centers along Coastal Highway. You can access that trail from Rehoboth Avenue too.
From there, you’re about a mile or so from Cape Henlopen State Park and the Gordons Pond Trail. That trail, which is bikeable but not paved, is sometimes biked by President Joe Biden and his family when they’re at their nearby vacation home in Rehoboth.
Since the trails really took off in recent years, other towns in northern Sussex County have also wanted to get involved, including Milton, the home of Dogfish Head beer and other small businesses worth stopping at along the way.
“We’re going to get this mainline corridor done and then look at building small veins out to adjoining communities,” said Niezgoda, whose agency also oversees bike trails in Dover and along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal in northern Delaware.
But the trail that runs through Lewes has “drastically exceeded expectations,” and added some unanticipated complications.
“We knew that it would be popular but I don’t think we knew it would be as popular as quick,” said Niezgoda. “We didn’t have the personnel and the budgets to manage networks like this from a maintenance perspective. We mow once or twice a year, and out here you just can’t do that. You’ve got to mow once a month and sometimes more.”
But that wasn’t a complaint, so much as a recognition that the public views the trails the same way they do.
“Come and visit our trail networks. We support them and we think that they’re great,” said Niezgoda.