Photo courtesy of Kent County Tourism
This spring and summer, take in the views of Kent County’s coastal marshes, visit historic sites and more on the Bayshore Byway.
The Delaware Bayshore Byway offers a mesmerizing mix of coastal marshes, sandy shores, forest habitats, farmed fields, historic settlements and flocks of birds. The route, proposed more than a decade ago, was named a National Scenic Byway in 2021. A leisurely drive along the byway offers many temptations to stop.
The John Dickinson Plantation is a destination all by itself. The newest element of the historic site is a burial ground that likely holds enslaved individuals and other Black residents who lived, worked and died there. “This is sacred ground for Delaware, and we will continue to treat it with the honor and respect it deserves,” said Tim Slavin, director of the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, when the burial ground find was announced in 2021. Tours now include the burial grounds.
The Nature Conservancy calls the byway area “one of the world’s most important stopovers for migratory birds,” and twice a year, the region hosts the second-largest concentration of migrating shorebirds in the Western Hemisphere. Nine major publicly owned natural areas make up the largest preserved coastal marshland on the East Coast.
By watching birds, visitors can understand the importance of migratory flyway zones and resting areas. A half-million shorebirds enjoy a rest stop along coastal Delaware where they dine on horseshoe crab eggs, giving birds such as red knots, dunlins, ruddy turnstones and sanderlings the strength they need to complete their journey. Delaware Bay has the world’s largest population of horseshoe crabs.
Because the land is relatively flat, the most scenic views are from the many bridges and the occasional observation towers, which can be found at Taylors Gut in the Woodland Beach Wildlife Area; at Raymond Pool, Shearness Pool and Bear Swamp Pool in the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge; and in the Little Creek Wildlife Area.
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is the largest preserved area. Its 16,000 acres are mostly tidal salt marsh, but a visitor center, driving tour route and observation towers enhance visits from savvy locals, birders and biologists from around the world. It lures thousands of snow and Canada geese during their migrations and has been a nesting site for bald eagles.
The Woodland Beach Wildlife Area covers 6,000 acres and is known for incredible birdwatching, crabbing, boating, hunting and fishing, and those pursuits are doable along much of the byway. Woodland Beach was once a resort with a boardwalk and dance hall.
The quarter-mile boardwalk between the St. Jones Reserve and the Ted Harvey Wildlife Management Area offers great views of the salt marsh. The reserve has a visitor center and 2-mile nature trail.
The Milford Neck Wildlife Area features beaches and dunes, tidal marshes, island hammocks, swamps, upland forests, open farmland and a 350-acre open space for training hunting dogs.
Lording over Big Stone Beach is a metal observation tower, one of five built in Delaware between the first and second world wars to reinforce nearby Fort Saulsbury.
In harmony with all this natural beauty are maritime communities like Leipsic and Little Creek. Both once thrived with oyster industries but today lure visitors to fish, crab and relax.
Bowers Beach is one of the bay’s premier fishing towns, also drawing people to swim, bird-watch, kayak, sail and paint.
Frederica offers a rare look at one of Kent’s earliest maritime economies.
Milford, one of the byway’s 10 discovery zones, offers multiple choices for dining or overnighting.