Our History

Delaware Wild Lands’ history is unique and rooted in our mission to safeguard Delaware's critical landscapes and natural resources....

1961-1970

FIRST DECADE

By 1970, Delaware Wild Lands took major steps toward protecting critical resources in Delaware.  Over 4,000 acres in Sussex County and an additional 1,100 acres in New Castle County were acquired and preserved.

1961-1970

MARCH 1961

DWL INCORPORATED

Concerned by increasing development and land consumption rates throughout Delaware, a small group of motivated individuals established Delaware’s first land trust in 1961- Delaware Wild Lands – to safeguard the First State’s critical coastal and natural resources.

Together with our founding and early Board members, our founder Edmund H. “Ted” Harvey worked tirelessly to acquire critical land and water resources throughout Delaware.  His great passion for the natural beauty of the First State-inspired generations of Delawareans to invest in the permanent protection of critical resources in Delaware. Ted served as President of Delaware Wild Lands until his passing in 1978.

TED HARVEY

MARCH 1961

1961

Delaware Wild Lands’ very first purchase was Trussum Pond near Laurel, now part of the Trap Pond State Park complex.  This majestic and fragile area of old growth cypress and ponds hides under a canopy of loblolly, cedar and oak, and is reminiscent of the Deep South.

POND

1961

1964

FIRST PARCEL IN THE GREAT CYPRESS SWAMP PURCHASED

The Great Cypress Swamp showcases our success in acquiring, protecting, and restoring the wild lands of Delaware.  Over the course of 60 years, Delaware Wild Lands has consolidated 10,000 acres of land in Sussex County, Delaware, and Worcester and Wicomico Counties in Maryland to protect the remains of what was once a vast 50,000 to 60,000-acre swamp.

1964

1966

FIRST PARCEL PURCHASED IN NEW CASTLE COUNTY AT TAYLOR’S BRIDGE

To the north in New Castle County, Shell Oil began to acquire land along the shores of the Delaware Bay to build a major oil refinery, threatening the viability of our critical bayshores area that nourish birds, shellfish, and other wildlife; filter streams and rivers; and protect the shoreline from flooding and storm surges.  To thwart these efforts and the construction of the refinery, Delaware Wild Lands successfully purchased enough strategically located land within the Shell Oil “take area” to prevent the construction of the refinery.

taylors bridge

1966

1971-1980

SECOND DECADE

Delaware Wild Lands continued to add to the protected resources of Delaware throughout the 1970s, supporting The Delaware Coastal Zone Act and acquiring over 6,000 acres in Sussex County and an additional 34 acres in New Castle County.  It was also a time of leadership change, with the passing of Ted Harvey and the appointment of his son, Rusty Harvey, as Executive Director.

1971-1980

1971

THE DELAWARE COASTAL ZONE ACT

Recognizing the need for an even greater and more comprehensive approach to protecting Delaware’s coastal resources, Delaware Wild Lands worked earnestly alongside former Gov. Russell Peterson toward the passage of The Delaware Coastal Zone Act of 1971.

1971

1974

PURCHASED OVER 5,000 ACRES AT THE GREAT CYPRESS SWAMP

The Great Cypress Swamp is Delaware Wild Land’s largest wetlands restoration project. Reversing a legacy of ditching and draining from the 1930’s, we’ve restored 300+ acres of wetlands and nurtured greater forest diversity.

1974

1978

PASSING OF EDMUND H. HARVEY, FOUNDER AND FIRST DWL PRESIDENT

1978

1978

HOLGER H. “RUSTY” HARVEY NAMED EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Rusty Harvey began his career with Delaware Wild Lands in 1967 and was named Executive Director 1978, blazing his unique trail while following in his father’s conservationist footsteps.

1978

1981-1990

THIRD DECADE

Under Rusty’s leadership, he embarked on forging his own path while honoring his father’s legacy as a conservationist. During the 1980s, he played a pivotal role in expanding DWL’s presence through strategic acquisitions at Augustine Creek and Milford Neck. In that decade alone, Delaware Wild Lands secured over 1,700 acres at Milford Neck, initiating efforts to safeguard the critical beach and dune ecosystems of this region while providing sanctuary for shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. Additionally, over 900 acres, including an exceptional heronry, were acquired at Augustine Creek with the purchase of the Armstrong Farm.

1981-1990

1982

FIRST PURCHASE OF PROPERTY ON AUGUSTINE CREEK WITH THE PURCHASE OF THE ARMSTRONG FARM

Our holdings on Augustine Creek include freshwater wetlands, agricultural fields, meadows, upland forests, and creek frontage teeming with waterfowl, shorebirds, birds of prey, deer, otter, and small game.

1982

1985

FIRST PURCHASE OF PROPERTY AT MILFORD NECK

In 1985 we purchased 1,775 acres from the Delaware Bay Transport Company, launching additional conservation efforts in the area and preserving over three miles of shoreline and nearly 3,500 acres of beach, tidal marsh, forest, and farmland.

1985

1991-2000

FOURTH DECADE

During the 1990s, Delaware Wild Lands continued to acquire property along Delaware’s vital shoreline at Milford Neck, adding 1,700+ acres and preserving one of the few remaining relatively undisturbed stretches of Delaware Bay shoreline.  An additional 1,500 acres were acquired in New Castle County, and 94 acres were added at the Great Cypress Swamp, expanding the habitat for these areas’ diverse flora and fauna.

1991-2000

2001-2010

FIFTH DECADE

NCC 140 acres, Sharp 429, Sussex 25.23

During the 1990s, Delaware Wild Lands made significant strides in land acquisition, bolstering conservation efforts across the state. In New Castle County, an additional 140 acres were acquired, alongside an impressive 429-acre addition through the purchase of the Sharp Farm in Odessa. An additional 25 acres were acquired in Sussex County at the Great Cypress Swamp, reinforcing the habitat for the diverse flora and fauna inhabiting these critical areas.

2001-2010

2006

SHARP FARM IN ODESSA

Situated in the confluence of the Appoquinimink River and Drawyers Creek, this farm’s marshes welcome more than 20 species of waterfowl for nesting, foraging, and wintering.  The farm offers exceptional ecological diversity as it lies uniquely within two transitional zones: the Piedmont to Coastal Plains, and salt marsh to upland forest.

2006

2010

THE PASSING OF HOLGER H. “RUSTY” HARVEY

The unexpected loss of Holger “Rusty” Harvey marked a transitional period for DWL, necessitating a change in leadership. Rusty left a lasting legacy as a skilled decoy carver, dedicated hunter, and passionate outdoorsman.

2010

2010-2011

PETER S. MARTIN SERVED AS INTERIM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Peter S. Martin first joined Delaware Wild Lands in 1975.  As an Ecologist, Pete brought a wealth of knowledge to the organization, setting the foundation for implementing conservation, wildlife, and habitat management programs, specifically at The Great Cypress Swamp.  With over 35 years of experience and his vast working knowledge of Delaware Wild Lands, Pete provided invaluable leadership at a crucial time for the organization.

2010-2011

2011-PRESENT

RECENT WORK

Delaware Wild Lands experienced a significant acceleration in conservation and restoration efforts during this period. More acreage was safeguarded at this time than in the preceding two decades, including notable properties like the Roberts Farm, now DWL’s headquarters, and expansions at Augustine Creek. DWL undertook extensive repair and restoration initiatives across hundreds of acres of wildlife habitat, diversifying funding sources and illuminating strategic landholdings’ pivotal role in the broader conservation landscape.

2011-PRESENT

2011

KATHERINE F. HACKETT NAMED AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Kate brought over 20 years of leadership experience in land and water conservation and management, having successfully implemented regional initiatives that improved the quality of natural resources and protected the economic vitality of working landscapes.  With experience collaborating with a broad range of stakeholders, including local residents, landowners, non-profits, advisory boards, local, regional, state, and Federal governments, and environmental organizations, Kate had the skill set to move Delaware Wild Lands forward.

2011

2015

SMITH FARM, TAYLORS BRIDGE

This small property and key inholding to thousands of acres of publicly and privately owned conservation lands at Taylor’s Bridge serves as a gateway to conserved lands that lie immediately to the north and south and portions of the Delaware estuary that support numerous species of fish, migratory birds and waterfowl, wildlife, and flora and fauna.

2015

2015

ROBERTS FARM, TAYLORS BRIDGE – 1250 ACRES

Located in southern New Castle County near Townsend, this area represents some of Delaware’s most pristine upland and coastal resources, providing important habitat for many species of birds and other wildlife while improving the quality of our air and water.

2015

2017

SMOOT FARM, GREAT CYPRESS SWAMP

Adjacent to the Great Cypress Swamp, the Smoot family owned this for more than 100 years.  Thanks to their generous land donation, this property is now permanently preserved, expanding the acreage of the Great Cypress Swamp and becoming a part of Delaware Wild Lands vision for the area.

2017

2018

PASSMORE, TAYLORS BRIDGE

The Passmore Property boasts an unusual variety of coastal woodlands, old-growth forests, tidal saltmarshes, and rolling fields and swales.  Home to species that are rare or in decline, Delaware Wild Lands was pleased to work with the Passmore Family to protect this beautiful property forever.

2018

2021

FORTNER FARM, AUGUSTINE CREEK

Adjacent to land already owned by Delaware Wild Lands, the Fortner Farm is a critical part of the Augustine Creek complex of tidal and brackish wetlands.  Protecting this lovely property ensures healthy habitat for wildlife, waterfowl, and birdlife, and improves water quality throughout the Augustine Creek and Delaware estuary watersheds.

2021

2021

BREEDING, GREAT CYPRESS SWAMP

The Breeding property has a large concentration of two important tree species.  The first is an impressive stand of mature Bald cypress trees, many of which are in excess of 200 years old.  The second species is Pawpaw, which provides valuable food for wildlife.  Lying adjacent to other DWL properties along the Pocomoke River Corridor, this property is particularly important for protecting and enhancing water quality.

2021

2022

GITAITIS, AUGUSTINE CREEK

Delaware Wild Lands worked with the Gitaitis Family to secure this beautiful property along the Delaware Bayshore.  Located at the mouth of Augustine Creek, Gitaitis features a mixture of hardwood forest, agricultural fields, and marsh habitat.  The ecological value of this property, and the surrounding Augustine Creek Land complex, is high and provides critically important coastal habitat.

2022

2022

KATE HACKETT RESIGNS AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Kate’s tenure deepened DWL’s appreciation for the critical role of landholdings in broader conservation efforts, motivating her to explore similar conservation work worldwide.

2022

2023

COLLINS, GREAT CYPRESS SWAMP

Situated between two branches of the upper reaches of the Pocomoke River, the Collins Property represents open space valuable to a wide array of resident and migratory species.  This acquisition is a strategic expansion of our holdings at the Great Cypress Swamp and will help Delaware Wild Lands increase wildlife habitat and provide clean air and water to the region.

2023

2023

MARCIA FOX APPOINTED EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Marcia’s 20 years of environmental expertise, primarily in Delaware, equip her for her role at Delaware Wild Lands. With a background in strategic planning, priority setting, and partnership development, she’s adept at collaborating with diverse stakeholders, including government agencies and local communities. Her administration of programs focused on water quality protection and conservation assistance, along with her experience as a liaison with state and federal entities, underscores her ability to advance DWL’s mission effectively.

marcia

2023

Summary

Delaware Wild Lands takes pride in safeguarding 31,800 acres of land across the state, managing 21,800 acres directly to restore and preserve crucial habitats for wildlife, waterfowl, and ecosystems. An additional 10,000 acres are entrusted to the State of Delaware, contributing to the protection of valuable areas such as Trussum Pond, the Ted Harvey Wildlife Area/Logan Lane, Augustine Creek Wildlife Management Area, agricultural lands near the Buena Vista Conference Center, and 700 acres of pristine shoreline and marsh at Angola Neck. These efforts ensure the conservation and enhancement of Delaware’s natural landscapes for generations.

Today, residents and tourists benefit from Delaware Wild Lands’ land protection efforts. Canoeists, birders, and outdoor enthusiasts marvel at these ecological treasures’ breathtaking beauty and biodiversity. Furthermore, farming, sustainable forestry, and responsible hunting continue to be vital components of the local and regional economy, supported by the organization’s conservation initiatives.

Sunset