Sussex County Nonprofits Partner on Delaware’s Latest Living Shoreline

Volunteers Help Build

Delaware’s latest living shoreline project is taking root along the banks of Pepper Creek thanks to a partnership between the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays and the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek.

At the Gardens, near Dagsboro, a section of shoreline was receding due to erosion and sea-level rise, issues that threaten many shorelines and waterways in the Inland Bays, and lead to increased flood risk. The nearby marsh was being drowned out by the intruding saltwater, evidenced by the gray-trunked trees that had fallen along the creek’s edge.

This project built on an innovative conceptual design developed by Karen Steenhoudt as she pursued her master’s degree in landscape architecture at Temple University. The Center and the Gardens worked with contractor Sovereign Consulting Inc. and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to build a living shoreline almost exclusively with materials found on site.

“The innovative use of the natural, woody materials that were already on-site at the Botanic Gardens allowed us to create a really strong, protective, but attractive project that blends in with the landscape,” said Dr. Marianne Walch, the Center’s Science and Restoration Coordinator. “And it was installed almost entirely by volunteers. Living shorelines have been demonstrated to be just as protective and in some cases more protective, against erosion than hard-armoring methods. And they are much more environmentally friendly.”

Living shorelines are effective alternatives to other shoreline stabilization methods like bulkheads or riprap, which can actually harm habitat by interrupting the ecological connection between the water and land. They use both natural and nature-based materials to dampen and absorb the energy from wind and waves, protecting the shoreline from erosion while also enhancing coastal habitat. Natural materials used in living shoreline designs can include vegetation, coir fiber logs, wooden logs and branches, oyster castles, or bagged shells.

Logs and branches collected from the nearby woodlands provided the materials needed for an “anchored branch toe,” a naturally sourced structure built along the low-tide line that helps break up wave energy approaching the shore. Native plants such as marsh grasses, Northern spicebush, and highbush blueberries were planted in the compromised wetland and upland areas where they will provide vital habitat and food for local wildlife and pollinators.

A majority of the project was completed by volunteers, who spent multiple hot, humid summer days lugging the logs and securing them in the creek’s bottom.

The living shoreline also features a viewing platform that offers a 90-degree view of the project so that residents, students, businesses, contractors, and decision-makers can see first-hand how natural infrastructure could fit into their own landscaping plans and shoreline needs.

“Especially here in Sussex County where we’re seeing so much development along the tidal creeks and the Inland Bays, we want to show people how they can implement the technologies and techniques to protect these vital resources for everyone,” said Dr. Brian Trader, Deputy Executive Director and Director of Horticulture at the Gardens.

This project stabilizes over 300 feet of eroding shoreline, restores about 10,000 square feet of tidal wetlands, and will remove close to 20 pounds of nutrient pollution each year from Pepper Creek. The project marks the Center’s sixth living shoreline demonstration site in the Inland Bays.

To request on-site interviews or additional photos, please contact either Brent Baker, Director of Communications at the Delaware Botanic Gardens, at 508-277-1750 or bakercom@verizon.net or Maddy Goss, Communications Specialist at the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, at 302-858-7795 or mgoss@inlandbays.org.

The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is a nonprofit organization established in 1994 and is one of 28 National Estuary Programs. With its many partners, the Center works to preserve, protect and restore Delaware’s Inland Bays and their watershed. To learn more about the Center, go to inlandbays.org.

The Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek is a nonprofit organization established in 2012 with a mission to create a world-class, inspirational, educational, and sustainable public botanic garden in southern Delaware for the benefit and enjoyment of all. To learn more about the Gardens, go to delawaregardens.org.