Seaford & Partners Celebrate the Opening of Oyster House Park

U.S. Senator Carper, Mayor Genshaw, Local Officials & Chesapeake Conservancy Participate in Ribbon Cutting

Seaford, DE – Today, project partners celebrated the completion of phase one of Seaford’s new Oyster House Park at the site of the old J.B. Robinson Oyster House along the Seaford River Walk. Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware Chief Dennis Coker offered a land acknowledgement. U.S. Senator Tom Carper, Seaford Mayor David Genshaw, Chesapeake Conservancy Board Chair Randall Larrimore and Executive Vice President Mark Conway were on hand to mark the occasion along with representatives from Perdue Farms and the Franklin P. and Arthur W. Perdue Foundation, as well as other local elected officials.

Photo by City of Seaford

“Today, we are increasing access to the Nanticoke River for our community and our visitors.  This investment will not only draw people to the waterfront to enjoy the natural beauty of the river, but also to Seaford’s downtown businesses.  We believe this park will have a significant economic boost to not only our downtown but will also impact future investments along the waterfront.  We can not thank the Chesapeake Conservancy enough, along with all of our public partners, for coming alongside and supporting this project,” said Seaford Mayor David Genshaw.

“This first phase of the Oyster House project gives access to an amazing amenity to all residents – the Nanticoke River,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper. “Using the river as a centerpiece, and preserving the environment around it so that the public can use it for generations to come, makes Seaford more attractive to residents, businesses and folks traveling through. That’s a win-win for our environment and the economic vitality of Seaford.”

“Seaford and the Nanticoke River are important and intertwined pieces of our state’s maritime history,” said U.S. Senator Chris Coons. “The inauguration of the Oyster House Park honors that rich history while promoting the environment and making much-needed improvements to public access at this picturesque river. Thanks to Mayor Genshaw, the Chesapeake Conservancy, and everyone who helped with the launch of such a worthy endeavor.”

“The future look of the properties along the Nanticoke River will be influenced by this great addition. The beauty of the river has been hidden for a long time and is now the focus of efforts by visionaries in our community that will bring more people to its shorelines to enjoy this peaceful setting,” said Delaware State Senator Bryant L. Richardson.

Chesapeake Conservancy Board of Directors Chair Randy Larrimore said, “I was raised in Seaford and started this project to bring people back downtown and help with the revitalization of the City. The project is also personally rewarding. When I was a child, the river was so polluted, we couldn’t swim in it. Sixty years ago, my father was mayor of Seaford and led the effort to build a sewage disposal plant. I am so proud to be helping provide greater access to the pristine Nanticoke River that my father helped clean up. This park is part of our mission to protect 30% of the Chesapeake Bay, which is now 22% protected, by 2030 to meet President Biden’s challenge. 33% of the Nanticoke River corridor down to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is protected, so we know it can be done.”

“This will be a powerful example of how communities can leverage conservation and public access to natural assets like the Nanticoke River in order to provide new economic opportunities for outdoor recreation and tourism, and in turn, help to transform communities themselves,” continued Larrimore.

“Places like the new Seaford Oyster House Park are the backbones of our communities and the ground that grows the next generation of conservationists,” said Chesapeake Conservancy Executive Vice President Mark Conway. “We are grateful to the many funders who made this project possible.”

“At Perdue Farms, we share the larger Chesapeake Conservancy vision to preserve agricultural farmland and environmental habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and along the banks of the Nanticoke River,” said Kim Nechay, executive director of the Franklin P. and Arthur W. Perdue Foundation. “The new Oyster House Park serves as a launching point to the Nanticoke and some of the most ecologically important unspoiled habitat along a 40-mile river corridor from Seaford to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County in Maryland. We’re proud to support our neighbors in the Seaford community.”

Construction on this first phase of the new park began in December 2020 and focused on enhancing access to the Nanticoke River along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (Chesapeake Trail). The public is welcome to enjoy the expanded Seaford River Walk, fishing nooks, performance deck, boat docking facilities and a kayak launch. A reconstructed bulkhead has stabilized the shoreline along with a new living shoreline.

The total project cost of this phase was $1.2 million, which was funded through a mix of private and public resources, including state transportation funding allocated by State Representative Daniel Short and State Senators Brian Pettyjohn and Bryant Richardson. Additional funding came from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Crystal Trust, Longwood Foundation, Franklin P. and Arthur W. Perdue Foundation, Welfare Foundation and REI.

In 2018, Chesapeake Conservancy, a nonprofit based in Annapolis, MD, purchased the Oyster House Park property, with the generous support of the Mt. Cuba Center, and donated the waterfront parcel to the City. Chesapeake Conservancy then worked with the City in a year-long public planning and comment period process to seek community input that was incorporated into a draft master plan for the Oyster House Park.

In late February 2020, the City Council approved a master plan calling for four stages of the park’s construction. Through resources raised by Chesapeake Conservancy, construction bid documents were designed and released in the summer of 2020, and Dissen & Juhn was chosen through a competitive bidding process for the first phase of the project.

Subsequent phases are planned to take place over five years, with each phase focused on providing benefits for the community that can be enjoyed immediately upon completion. These plans include:

Phase Two: A natural green amphitheater at the edge of the property that seats 75 people and an overflow of about 200 on the lawn. This will also serve as a community outdoor classroom, gathering space for performances and erosion control to address runoff from steep banks.

Phase Three: A structure that is a reimagination of the two Oyster Houses that were once on the site that will showcase sculpture, interpretive exhibits and provide meeting space. It will include the necessary public amenities such as parking and bathrooms, as well as a porch and garage door openings that will permit an unblocked view of the river from South Cannon Street.

Phase Four: Enhancing community emotional and spiritual connections through pedestrian access to the nearby prayer garden, a tribal ring for the Nanticoke Indians to practice traditional ceremonies by the river and a pavilion for shaded gatherings.

The park complements a significant number of other conservation projects along the Nanticoke River including the recently celebrated Nanticoke Crossing Park near the Woodland Ferry. Through partnerships with the United States Department of Defense Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program (REPI), the states of Maryland and Delaware, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Mt. Cuba Center, Lower Shore Land Trust, Sussex County Land Trust, Nanticoke River Watershed Conservancy, and others, Chesapeake Conservancy has helped conserve 3,050 acres in 21 projects across the corridor linking Vienna, MD, to Seaford. Significantly, these 21 projects link to other previously conserved properties and refuges, which creates 19,300 total acres of conserved land in the Nanticoke River watershed with a powerful impact on the environment.