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Sussex County Bike Trail Memorializes Local Business Icon Tom Draper

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Thomas H. Draper was the owner of TV station WBOC and an avid cyclist. He died in 2017 after being struck while riding his bicycle./Photo courtesy of WBOC​

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Former state Rep. Harvey Kenton wanted a way to memorialize his lifelong friend, the late Thomas H. Draper.

A cyclist, outdoorsman, businessman and philanthropist, Draper was well known for his 50-year career in the news industry as the founder and owner of radio stations and WBOC-TV. He died at age 76 in September 2017 following a cycling accident on Slaughter Neck Road near his Milton-area home.

“Draper was a personal friend and left a legacy,” says Kenton. “Bicycling was his passion.”

After Draper’s death, Kenton—who was in office at the time—said he wanted to create a lasting tribute to his friend. He approached Draper’s family, as well as fellow Sussex County legislators and DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan with a proposed naming opportunity—a 4.9-mile stretch of the 17-mile Georgetown to Lewes pathway (Phase II).

Built along a state-owned former railroad corridor, the completed Lewes–Georgetown Trail will run from the entrance of Cape Henlopen State Park along the railroad right-of-way to just outside Georgetown. On the east end, the trail connects to the Junction–Breakwater Trail, eventually to Gordon Pond and into Rehoboth Beach. The paved, 10-foot-wide path was designed for bicycle riders of all abilities, and for walkers and runners.

A June 3 unveiling ceremony, coordinated by DelDOT on a picture-perfect morning, drew a large and enthusiastic crowd of serious cyclists, along with Draper’s family and friends. There, DelDOT unveiled a two-sided kiosk with a photo collage showcasing Draper’s love of Delmarva and the outdoors.

As of the June ceremony, 6.5 miles of the trail—from Gills Neck Road to Log Cabin Road—were completed at a construction cost of $4 million; DelDOT engineer Jeff Niezgoda says he expects the final 10 miles to be finished within seven years, making it the state’s longest trail.

Friends and family believe the Draper Trail is a fitting memorial to Thomas H. Draper, who loved biking around Delmarva./Photo courtesy of WBOC

Currently, the only trailhead, offering both parking and restrooms, is in Lewes near the Lewes Library; Niezgoda says similar trailhead accommodations are on the drawing board for future construction.

Although the full length of the trail is incomplete, the new off-road corridor is certainly no secret, with an estimated 500 to 600 users a day, Niezgoda says, “and that number is climbing as word gets out.”

As with any transportation mode, the emphasis is on safety. Niezgoda says riders and pedestrians must observe traffic and trail rules, including stopping at road crossings. Those rules, he says, are clearly posted along the trail.

Cyclists like Robin Spillers of Magnolia, as well as those in cycling groups like Sussex Cyclists, will soon be able to safely ride the planned trail between Lewes and Georgetown.

“My husband and I ride here a lot because of the trails,” Spillers says. “We’re glad everything is connected [and] there are a lot more options.”

Milford resident Mike McConnell, a DelDOT fiscal analyst and avid cyclist, sometimes rides his bike to work in Dover from his Milford home.

“It’s good exercise, and it’s safe,” he says of the new trail. “It allows people camping west of Route 1 to ride from Hopkins dairy farm into Rehoboth Beach without crossing Route 1.”

Draper’s family members say they’re delighted that so many people can enjoy this enduring tribute. One of Draper’s daughters, Lewes resident Mariah Draper Calagione, says the trail serves as a perfect remembrance of her late father.

“My father was fanatical about being active outdoors, enjoying all Delmarva has to offer,” she says. “It’s wonderful and lets people know that trails are a necessity.”

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