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Case Study: Nortnern Delaware Greenway Council

Persistence of a staunch volunteer core and cooperation among agencies, political leadership, and business sector creates success..

From Northern Delaware Greenway Council

Map of Delaware

Summary of Project

In 1987, the President's Commission on American Outdoors called for the establishment of greenways-- human and animal accessible corridors that connect larger natural areas. Greenways provide a solution not only to the problem of limited recreation in urban areas, but also a means of protecting water supplies vital for public health and economic growth; a means of preserving the environment for future use and enjoyment; and a fundamental planning tool to create more livable communities. Recognizing the need for a massive grassroots effort, the Commission called for a "prairie fire of Community action" to create a network of greenways across the USA.

The Northern Delaware Greenway Council, Inc. (NDGC) responded to that challenge and is, today working to build a Greenway network in Delaware.

Founded in 1990, the NDGC is a non-profit organization with over 400 members, an Honorary Board that includes former and current politcal representatives, an Advisory Board, and a core volunteer staff. The Northern Delaware Greenway Council brings together federal, state and local agencies; elected officials; private foundations; businesses and corporations; and private individuals to create greenways.

At present there are over five miles of completed greenway trails. The NDGC is now working on Phase One of the Northern Delaware Greenway connecting over a dozen city, county and state parks from the Delaware River to the Brandywine River.

"The greenways are working to connect not only sections of land, but create interconnections between the social and economic elements of the state."

Greenway Benefits

Greenways are multi-objective, resulting in a wide range of benefits, incorporating all facets of sustainability. They:

  • are attractive tourist destinations;
  • add value to nearby homes and offices;
  • create a "quality-of-life" that attracts relocating and new businesses;
  • add new opportunities for recreation close to homes, schools, and offices;
  • encourage new recreation-related businesses;
  • link important cultural and historic sites;
  • foster local pride and unify communities;
  • provide refuge and safe migration routes for wildlife;
  • help preserve the biological diversity of plant and animal species by connecting isolated natural areas;
  • improve water quality by buffering streams and trapping pollutants;
  • reduce flood damage and help recharge under-ground water supplies;
  • serve as car-free routes to and from schools, shops, workplaces and parks; and
  • help improve air-quality.

Connecting Community

Designed to support an improved quality of life--social, economic and environmental--the Northern Delaware Greenway, when complete, will be a ribbon of

green that ties together the natural, cultural, and historical resources of Wilmington. State, county and city parks will be linked to museums (such as Rockwood, Hagley and the Delaware Art Museum), schools, cultural institutions (such as the Wilmington Drama League and Wilmington Music School), churches, synagogues and workplaces. The greenway will protect vital watersheds along the Brandywine River and the Delaware River north of Wilmington. When the Cross County greenway connections are made, the regional greenway system will serve over 440,000 residents of Northern Delaware.

To serve recreational, transportation and preservation puposes, greenways can be either paved or unpaved depending on the location. All trails are pedestrian and bicycle accessible. In accordance with the American Disability Act, many of the trails are built for handicap accessibility.

The purpose of a greenway is to connect all aspects of a community through a land corridor that will also serve as a social, economic, and environmental corridor.

The NDGC has found citizen involvement critical in the development of greenways. The NDGC speaks to neighborhood civic groups, educating them on the purpose of greenways and encouraging their involvement in the development process. The NDGC also talks to "friends of" park groups, environmental groups, planning boards and various public and private agencies. NDGC maintains an on-going public presence, reaching individuals on a personal level, and larger audiences through mass media.

Public and Private Partnerships

Currently, all greenway trails are built on public property including a combination of park land, transportation land, and public works land. One advantage of utilizing public property is that the NDGC can piggyback government projects. For instance, construction of a new sewer line provides ideal conditions for a greenway--a cleared, levelled area that connects major urban centers. A finished sewer line needs only a trail surface to become a working greenway corridor.

The use of public lands has enabled the NDGC to leverage funding from government sources more easily. In 1990, NDGC encouraged the City of Wilmington, New Castle County and the State of Delaware to establish Greenway programs and policies. In June 1990, the General Assembly slated $500,000 for a state-wide Greenway program as part of open space legislation. In 1991, public agencies were awarded a $98,000 planning grant for the Northern Delaware Greenway Project from the State of Delaware's newly instituted Statwide Greenway Program. In 1992, the first segment of the Northern Delaware Green opened. This 2+ mile trail that was a cooperative effort of the Division of Parks and Recreation, Woodlawn Trustees and the NDGC.

The NDGC worked cooperatively with state and county parks departments to obtain $650,000 in funds under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1990. Under the provisions of the act, a certain percentage of transportation money must be spent on enhancement of bicycle and pedestrian pathways. In this case, the money is being applied to enhancing those features within the greenways. Offering alternative forms of transportation to and from work and other destinations not only cuts down on traffic congestion and air pollution, but enhances the health of people who use them.

In addition to benefiting the environment and the social well-being of the Wilmington community, the greenways are capturing the support of local businesses and developers. The construction of a greenway increases the real estate values of bordering lands and, therefore, their marketability for future development. In 1995, NDGC began working with the New Castle County Board of Realtors to encourage incorporation of greenways into development projects. And the NDGC has received sponsorship from local companies for trail ameneties such as benches and kiosks.

Bridges Through Cooperation

The NDGC realizes that there is an overarching purpose of greenways: to ensure the quality of life of citizens through both growth and preservation. Only by striking a balance between these two has NDGC succeeded. The economic value of NDGC's work has been proven through the support of the business community in the creation of greenways. Likewise, the greenways protect the area's water supply, thereby benefiting the entire community. Working in a cooperative, non-adversarial way toward common goals, the NDGC has succeeded in building a unique and very strong bridge linking the environment, business and goverment sectors.

Because NDGC works with the concerns and motivations of both the environmental and business sectors, it has maintained a positive working relationship with the political leadership. The greenways are working to connect not only sections of land, but create interconnections between the social and economic elements of the state.

Meeting the Challenges

The interconnected nature of NDGC, while one of its greatest assets, has presented the organization with its toughest challenges. The creation of a greenway demands cooperation between not only citizen and business groups but also cooperative efforts between a multitude of government agencies.

For instance metropolitan planning agencies mandate the integration of the transportation departments with land-use planning. While agency cooperation should result in a more constructive process, there are often questions such as which agency has the prerogative in a particular issue. To facilitate the coordination of efforts, NDGC created the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) in 1994 to coordinate greenway construction between state, county and municipal agencies. Finding the means to develop partnerships between government agencies in an efficient manner has been the greatest challenge for the NDGC.

Present Status

The Northern Delaware Greenway Council was recently one of 10 recipients, out of 2,000 participating groups, selected to receive the "Trails for Tomorrow Award," sponsored by DuPont Cordura Nylon. As part of the National Trails day event, this award has helped build the confidence of the business community in the work of NDGC.

The NDGC is presently in transition from an all volunteer organization into a staffed non-profit. At this time the NDGC has a part-time development person as well as 14 board members who contribute substantially to the volunteer efforts. For special event projects, the NDGC generally pulls in an additional 30-40 volunteers. In 1994, the NDGC received a $20,000 grant from the Laffey-McHugh Foundation as seed money to further the organization's goals for expansion.

The NDGC is also changing its focus from a locally-driven organization to one with a state focus. Goals include creating a "Cross County" greenway system that links to the White Clay Creek, the C&D Canal, Delaware's Coastal Heritage Greenway and to greenways being formed in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

In June 1995, NDGC received $6,000 from the State Legislation Grant & Aid Program to expand its work to a state-wide level.

Case Study Source: Sustainability in Action: Profiles of Community Initiatives Across the United States-- EPA / --Community Sustainability Resource Institute. 1995

2006 update:

Contact: Metta Barbour, Executive Director
Northern Delaware Greenway Council, Inc., P.O. Box 2095, Wilmington, DE 19899
Tel: (302) 655-7275

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