You may think of Mt. Cuba as a site for special sky-gazing nights or a place that works hard to preserve and propagate native flora. As you’ll read in contributor Larry Nagengast’s article, “Mt. Cuba Center: A Game Changer in Conservation,” it has become much more.
For several years, Mt. Cuba Center has quietly helped to protect 15,000 acres of natural lands across the state. In recent years, large grants by Mt. Cuba Center have enabled organizations such as The Nature Conservancy to purchase a former pulpwood plantation and the Conservation Fund to buy the 1,100-acre Woodlawn Tract north of Wilmington. In the first case, the plantation is being restored to almost 1,000 acres of native forest that is becoming a haven for rare plant, insect and bird species. In the second, Woodlawn was made part of the First State National Historic Park. As Blaine Phillips, senior vice president and Mid-Atlantic regional director of the Conservation Fund, told Larry, “If you’re driving through the state of Delaware, you’re going to pass something that the Mt. Cuba Center has helped protect.”
These places often hide in plain sight, and they are worth experiencing. Delaware encompasses several special environments that many of us take for granted or know too little about. The Brandywine, for example, is the main source of drinking water in New Castle County, yet it is compromised by agricultural run-off and sedimentation. While we pay for traditional treatment, a group of conservationists, academics, utilities companies and others are exploring the cost benefit of investing in projects such as stream bank stabilization on the edges of pastures and nearby parking lots to reduce sedimentation and runoff.
A short drive east from Del. 1 lies Milford Neck, an area of marshes, beaches, forests and farmlands where the state and a consortium of conservation groups have returned former farmlands to wetlands and forests—with spectacular results—and where they will try to restore the natural flow of waterways that were altered long ago. The thinking is that a healthy environment is more resilient to floods from coastal storms, a natural barrier to damage farther inland. Again, natural solutions to man-made problems, gently nudged along by conservationists, could provide a great savings to us taxpayers.
Those solutions are becoming ever more important. Delaware has the lowest average elevation in the country, making it the canary in the coal mine for sea-level rise. We could pay untold millions to upgrade water and sewage treatment plants, buy out or abandon properties in flood plains, or elevate railways and roads, or we could improve areas that provide natural protection. Even if you don’t claim to love nature, those are great reasons to become an environmentalist.
Yet there is a benefit beyond the financial: beautiful areas full of life. Thanks to Mt. Cuba Center and decades of work by environmental visionaries, we can witness some of the world’s greatest natural spectacles—horseshoe crab spawnings, bird migrations—that happen nowhere else on Earth. For all the other benefits of sound environmental stewardship, beauty itself is a resource worth protecting.