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|White Clay Creek in the Fall - by Carla Lucas|
When the 'big one' gets hooked-whether it's a whooper bass to a fisherman or landing a national account to a businessman-it's an occasion to remember and celebrate. In the case of the White Clay Valley and a coalition of concerned citizens and conservation groups from Pennsylvania and Delaware the 'big one' happened 25 years ago on October 16, 1984 with the donation of 1,762 acres of wilderness along the White Clay Creek from the DuPont Company to public lands in both states.
On October 16, people gathered along the White Clay Creek to witness the exchange of a twig, a clump of turf, and a vile of White Clay Creek water from the DuPont Company to the states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. It was a symbolic gesture, similar to what was presented by the Duke of York to William Penn on his acquisition of Penn's Woods in 1682. The ceremony marked with certainty the end of the proposed damming of the White Clay Valley and the beginning of a new direction for the lands of the White Clay Valley in both Pennsylvania and Delaware.
|Then Senator Joe Biden speaking at the 1984 Ceremony|
The DuPont Company had purchased all but approximately 300 acres of the Valley-up to the 175-foot elevation-in anticipation of needing a new water source in New Castle County. The plan was to dam the White Clay Creek and turn the valley into a reservoir.
DuPont's lands included about 500 acres in Delaware and the rest in Pennsylvania. By the mid-1970s the water situation was resolved, but DuPont was holding onto the lands, just in case.
"Prior to the donation, we (the conservationists/citizens groups) had been working on (stopping the proposed reservoir) on the White Clay for 20 years." says Dorothy Miller, of Newark, Delaware, one of the leaders of the citizen's movement to keep the White Clay Creek from being dammed, "and we'd gotten a number of (small) parcels through state acquisition. Don Sharpe, of Delaware's United Auto Workers Union, wanted to work on the big one." The October 16 event was the culmination of this grassroots effort.
"It took a lot of arm twisting to get DuPont to donate the land," remembers Miller. She credits then Senator Joe Biden's efforts as the liaison between the conservationists and DuPont as the pivotal element for success. "DuPont realized that since the land was not needed for the reservoir it could donate it to the states," Miller says. "But it had to be both states. If DuPont donated the 500 acres in Delaware to the Delaware Park system, it would have no use for the 1200 acres in Pennsylvania. Joe was able to negotiate a deal with both states to accept the donation."
As part of the negotiation process, the various conservation groups involved in the grassroots effort to save the White Clay Valley had put into the resolution/bill of both states the creation of an advisory board to work with the parks departments in both states, "to consider matters related to the restoration and conservation of the preserve." The advisory board became known as the Bi-State Advisory Council.
"We didn't want to lose contact," says Miller on the reason the Bi-State Advisory Council was formed. "We didn't want the professionals to get a hold of this land without any oversight."
Once the pomp and circumstance and formal ceremonies ended, it was time to get to work. The first meeting of the Bi-State Advisory Council was in November 1984. Miller was elected chairman, Gary Schroeder, vice chairman and Norman Wilder, secretary. Other members included Dr. Bernard Sweeney, William Sellers, Joseph O'Neill, James Hall, Charles Bailey, Jaqueline Peltier, Gordon Woodrow, William Toblin, and Don Sharp.
"We had a blank canvas to work with," says Schroeder, of Landenberg. "In the beginning we met every month with lots of assignments. It was new and two states were working together to integrate a plan. There were two philosophies, two agencies, and two budgets. We were trying to do something different. This was to be low impact use; a preserve versus a state park."
"We (the Bi-State Advisory Council) did a lot in the early days," says Miller. "We helped the states with hostility from the neighbors. The neighbors (bordering the parklands) had issues with hunting and were worried about safety. They were worried about kids partying in parking lots and fought us on some of the parking lot locations."
|White Clay Creek in Winter - photo by Carla Lucas|
In the years before the parks were established, the White Clay valley was used by fishermen, birdwatchers, hikers, mountain bikers, and off-road motorized vehicles. Many of the trails used today were established trails created well before the area was an official park. The White Clay Valley was also known as a party place, as evidenced by the amount of litter and beer bottles along the trails. After the park was dedicated, the staff stopped all motorized vehicles on interior trails, cleaned up the area, and stopped much of the partying. This helped with neighbor relations.
One example of the work done through the Bi-State Advisory Council was along the twisting stretch of London Tract Road, in Landenberg. When DuPont purchased the property (from 175' in elevation and below) they entered into an agreement where the original owner had timber rights for the land. "If those trees were cut, it could have ruined a beautiful section of the valley," says Miller. Through talks, the owners agreed to give up timber rights in exchange for the right to put fencing around their remaining property, if desired.
"Gary and I visited quite a few people," says Miller. "There were a number of contentious things that had to be ironed out. We acted as citizen liaisons. In the end everyone was happy."
"We pushed for many years and never took our eyes off the ball," says Schroeder. "At the core was how a citizens' advisory board could imposed its will on the parks. We stayed true to our philosophy, of course Dorothy and Don's vision trumped everyone's vision. There were lots of philosophical wrestling matches. In the end we landed in the right place."
"Stop in. Hike it. See it. Understand it," encourages Schroeder. "It's incredible stuff. We need to continue to recognize the need for preserving the natural and cultural resources that have always been there and recognize the White Clay Creek Preserve as the gem it is."
As time passed, and the White Clay Creek Preserve and White Clay Creek State Park were developed, the role of the Bi-State Advisory Council lessened. For many years the group met infrequently, as there was little to accomplish.
|Photographed at CreekFest 2009 L-R: Don Sharpe, Linda Stapleford,
Bob Chartowich, Dorothy Miller and Senator Tom Carper
Within the past few years, under the leadership of the Bi-State Advisory Council's current chairman, Bob Chartowich, of Newark, Delaware, the Council is once again on the move.
"Dupont donated this land to be used as a wilderness preserve, and that is our focus, says Chartowith. The Bi-State Advisory Council's task is to advise Delaware and Pennsylvania on the long-term strategic management of the preserve.
To that end, the Council's most recent accomplishment was to finally pass a preserve management philosophy. Chartowich states the philosophy as "the preserve should be managed as closely as possible to provide a wilderness experience that resembles the way the area was before development; to allow people to experience natural areas."
Chartowich was a New Castle County planner who advocated against the dam from within the government before the land donation. He now uses his talents to continue the preservation and conservation efforts of the White Clay Valley.
"It was an unbelievable effort," says Chartowich of the 20 years of fighting to keep the White Clay Valley in its natural state. "Many people do not realize how difficult it was to stop this dam. It was year and year of lobbying; of finding new ideas that worked. This was the most difficult thing I've been involved in."
Concerns the Bi-State Advisory Council are now dealing with include: further land acquisition in Pennsylvania, advocating for more resources for the parks, and supporting the creation of an overland connection/greenway between White Clay Creek and the Fair Hill Natural Resource Area in Maryland.
"In Delaware, White Clay Creek State Park has a lot of priority. It is one of the two largest parks in the state. There is funding appropriated to staff the park and millions of dollars have been spent on land acquisition," says Chartowith. "The White Clay Creek Preserve has a low priority in the Pennsylvania (park system). I want to see the Bi-State Advisory Council start making a lot of noise in Pennsylvania; this park needs more funds to do the work needed. We want to build a priority perception on Pennsylvania park officials about this particular facility."
"An extended family of people has worked on preserving the White Clay Valley all their lives," says Chartowich. "Today, the White Clay Valley is a success story. It's great when I run into people enjoying the preserve."
|This history of the Bi-State Advisory Council was
written by WCWA Board member Carla Lucas and is
reproduced here courtesy of Landenberg Today magazine, where it appeared in the Fall/Winter 2009 issue.
Dorothy Miller and Gary Schroeder also serve on the WCWA Board, and Linda Stapleford is the
White Clay Creek Management Committee's River Administrator.
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