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Making the Great Cypress Swamp Great Again

Written on: March 16th, 2017 in Wetland Restorations

By: Andrew Martin, Field Ecologist, Delaware Wild Lands

The Great Cypress Swamp once covered nearly 60,000 acres. Although a long history of ditching and draining for agriculture and development has reduced its vast expanse, the Swamp remains Delmarva Peninsula’s largest contiguous forest and largest freshwater wetland.

Freshwater wetland in Sussex County, DE.

Freshwater wetland in Sussex County, DE. Credit: Andrew Martin, PASM Photography

For the last 50 years, Delaware Wild Lands (DWL) has been strategically purchasing and restoring this delicate ecosystem. The first parcel that DWL ever acquired was Trussom Pond in 1961. This purchase launched our efforts to protect Delaware’s iconic cypress swamp habitat. Today, DWL owns and manages more than 10,5000 contiguous acres of the Great Cypress Swamp in Sussex County and overlapping the state line into Maryland.

Trussum Pond and the 1,200 acres of unique wetlands associated with it, were handed over to the Delaware State Parks system in 1991, but our commitment to the private protection of wetlands continues. Today, as Delaware’s largest non-profit non-governmental landholder, DWL owns more than 21,000 acres throughout Delaware, and we’re actively engaged in wetland restoration in all three counties.

The Great Cypress Swamp is home to our largest and most ambitious wetland restoration work. It also contains the headwaters of the Pocomoke River, an important tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. In 2011, we installed a series of water control structures in the historic ditches, allowing us to hold back millions of gallons of water that otherwise would have drained away. In only six years, we have rehydrated hundreds, if not thousands of acres of the Swamp.

Our wetland restoration in the Great Cypress Swamp began, perhaps surprisingly, with a 150-acre timber harvest. At the time, this area was a dry woodland. Harvesting timber helped us prepare the site as we began redirecting water and creating a restored emergent wetland. The revenues from timber sales are reinvested back into restoration expenses.

Planting seedling trees.

Planting seedling trees. Credit: Andrew Martin, PASM Photography

Since 2011 we’ve planted 173,000 native trees – a few thousand Baldcypress seedlings throughout, and tens of thousands of Atlantic White-cedar planted in the transitional and upland areas. Later this spring, we’re planning to plant 21,000 more trees.

As ecological systems are restored in the Swamp, a rich diversity of animal species is also returning. Each spring, hundreds of acres of newly-flooded woodlands echo with the “clack-clack-clack” of Carpenter Frogs and the mating calls of other species of frog. In some places, mature trees are dying in standing water, providing habitat for Red-headed Woodpeckers, Wood Ducks, owls, and other cavity nesters.

Spotted turtle. Credit: Andrew Martin

Spotted turtle. Credit: Andrew Martin, PASM Photography

Spotted Turtles – named by the Endangered Species Coalition as one of the top ten species most threatened by habitat fragmentation – now have hundreds of new acres to spread out and spawn. A new abundance of seed from wetland grasses, aquatic insects, amphibians, and even fish now provide food for wading birds like herons and egrets, and waterfowl like Mallards and Black Ducks. It is not uncommon to see dozens of Bald Eagles and other raptors soaring overhead.

Because of its delicate and sensitive nature, the Great Cypress Swamp – like all Delaware Wild Lands properties – is not open to unscheduled visitation. We do, however, offer guided tours. And the next opportunity for the public to visit the Swamp is even more fun than usual! Come join us on Saturday, May 20 for some great music at our annual Baldcypress Bluegrass Festival.

We’ll have five foot stompin’ bands playing all day from 12-6PM on a stage that backs right up to 150-year-old Baldcypress trees. Craft beers and wines will be flowing and several food trucks will be serving a delicious menu. New this year is a craft vendor area with members of the Dewey Artist Collaboration and DNREC’s Mobile Science Lab with interactive exhibits about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Tickets to the festival include free bus tours through the Great Cypress Swamp that will pass right by our massive wetland restoration sites. Tickets are only $25 in advance or $35 at the gate. All proceeds benefit Delaware Wild Lands. Visit www.dewildlands.org  or http://facebook.com/DelawareWildLands/events  for more information and tickets.

Wetlands Celebration Event & Family Bike Rally

Written on: March 15th, 2017 in Outreach

Start American Wetlands Month off right with the 14th Annual Get in Gear Family Bike Rally and the inaugural Wetlands Celebration on Saturday, May 6th from 9am to 2pm at Trap Pond State Park in Laurel, Delaware. These two events have joined together to provide fun and engaging entertainment for the whole family that brings awareness […]


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Proof is in the Pudding, or Mud in this Case…

Written on: March 15th, 2017 in Living Shorelines

Living Shorelines Really Do Work! Tidal wetlands are incredible ecosystems that protect us and our properties from storm floods, provide habitat for fish and wildlife, clean our water, and store carbon from the atmosphere. When these wetlands are in good condition, they have the ability to keep up with sea level rise, allowing them to […]


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The Bog Turtle: a Sun-Loving Harbinger of Spring

Written on: March 15th, 2017 in Wetland Animals

by Amy Nazdrowicz, Landmark Science & Engineering As residents of the Delmarva Peninsula, we are blessed with a high diversity of herpetofauna, (reptiles and amphibians), in part because of our landscape position which transitions between two physiographic regions: the coastal plain in its southern and central portions to the piedmont in the north. And no […]


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Where are Wetlands?

Written on: March 13th, 2017 in Outreach

So the saying goes that no matter where you are in Delaware, you are no more than a mile away from a wetland. But exactly where are all the wetlands in the state, and how can you find out if you have them on your property? We have just the answer for you, our new […]


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WMAP, This is How We Roll…

Written on: December 9th, 2016 in Outreach

We (the Wetland Monitoring & Assessment Program, aka WMAP) learn and grow every year.  Looking back at 2016, we decided to share our top four fun items that we learned or experienced along the way, and a field notebook page infographic pointing out some of our accomplishments throughout 2016.  Enjoy! Lessons Learned This Year: You never know what you might find in a […]


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Fiddler Crabs: From Burrows to Zoea

Written on: December 9th, 2016 in Wetland Animals

Guest Writer: Kari St.Laurent, Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve Fiddler crabs are one of the most iconic critters in the salt marsh. Male fiddler crabs have an unmistakable single large claw, paired with a tiny claw, which is used to court female fiddler crabs. But did you know that crabs start their life as microscopic […]


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Saltmarsh Scientists

Written on: December 9th, 2016 in Outreach

Guest Writers: Mary Rivera and Debra Forest, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Aquatic Resources Education Center The quiet of a peaceful morning in the Woodland Beach saltmarsh is interrupted by a flock of 60 lively fifth grade students. Squeals of delight emanate from several of the children at the fish station where they get a close-up look […]


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Wetlands & State of the Bays Report

Written on: December 9th, 2016 in Wetland Assessments

Guest Writer: Katie Georger, Delaware Center for the Inland Bays In November, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays (CIB) released the 2016 State of the Bays report, a 70-page compilation of environmental data about the Rehoboth, Indian River and Little Assawoman Bays and their watershed. In assembling this report, we considered thirty-five environmental indicators […]


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Delaware Participates in the National Wetland Condition Assessment

Written on: September 7th, 2016 in Wetland Assessments

Did you know that 50% of wetlands in our coastal plains ecoregion are in good condition?  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) organized the National Wetland Condition Assessment (NWCA) in 2011 to get these data, and now our Program (Wetland Monitoring & Assessment Program) is again helping to assess more of Delaware’s wetlands to contribute to the 2016 NWCA. […]


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Delaware Wetland Management & Assessment Program

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