On a sunny, breezy, September Saturday, hundreds of cyclists, walkers, and runners gave a rousing welcome to the newest section of East Coast Greenway during a Trailfest celebration September 22 in Wilmington, Delaware. The Jack A. Markell Trail connects Wilmington’s bustling downtown riverfront walk on the Christina River with the historic downtown of New Castle on the Delaware River. The nearly eight miles of paved greenway include a stunning boardwalk that spans the marsh at Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge and a handsome arched bridge over the Christina.
More than 250 cyclists of all ages and abilities took part in Trailfest’s 50-mile challenge ride, 15-mile family ride, or their own leisurely tours of the new trail. The celebration included live music, exhibits, canoeing and other activities on the grounds of the wildlife refuge's DuPont Environmental Education Center while an AIDS walk brought several hundred walkers to the new boardwalk. Trailfest organizers included Bike Delaware, Delaware Greenways, Riverfront Development Corporation of Delaware, Delaware Nature Society, DuPont Environmental Education Center, Urban Bike Project, New Castle County, City of New Castle, and the East Coast Greenway Alliance.
"This beautiful new trail fills a huge gap in the East Coast Greenway between Wilmington and New Castle and is a great example of integrated recreation and transportation infrastructure. It shows how greenways are natural partners with environmental advocacy to build awareness of our beautiful watersheds and the need for proactive stewardship,” says Dennis Markatos-Soriano, executive director of the East Coast Greenway Alliance. “This trail opening is also a big reason why Delaware is poised to be the first state to complete its portion of the East Coast Greenway. That race now has a leader with the finish line in sight."
Matt Meyer, county executive of New Castle County, Delaware, celebrated the vision and cooperation it took to develop the new greenway segment. Biking the trail earlier that morning before Trailfest, he saw “people of every age and every ethnicity” out biking and running and walking, he said. The greenway brings a huge return on investment, he noted, from people visiting the community and improving their health. He’s excited to be able to bike commute himself, he said, as he once did living and working in the New York City area.
“I’ve been on trails all over, and I’ll put this trail up against any in the country,” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, told attendees during a mid-day presentation. O'Mara noted that he has already gone out on the trail five times in the few weeks since its opening. Talking about the importance of the Christina River and the entire Delaware River watershed, O’Mara praised the “amazing natural resources, just two minutes from downtown” and how the region’s leadership is recognizing that restoration of the watershed “can create a powerful economic engine for this region.”
O’Mara served previously as secretary of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control under Governor Jack Markell, the new trail’s namesake. O’Mara praised current Delaware Governor John Carney for his vision and leadership in gaining bipartisan support for the conservation and restoration of the Delaware River Watershed from elected officials in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
“People thought this was impossible, it would never happen,” Governor Carney told attendees about the work to transform the Delaware riverfront. “But we have done it here in Delaware. We know that to be successful as a state, we have to have cool stuff to attract young people. And this is totally cool! ”
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