Plans Moving Forward For County’s New Bayfront Park

SNOW HILL – Grey’s Creek Nature Park has sat idle and unimproved since Worcester County took ownership of the former Weidman Farm in 2006, but the newest county park could be open to canoes and kayaks as early as spring 2010.

A master plan for the park is nearly complete with staffers approaching the County Commissioners for approval of a grant application to the state to fund the first improvement work at the new park.

The first project called for under that plan, the replacement and improvement of the boat canal bulkhead with a living marsh shoreline, will only get underway if a Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) grant from a wetlands fees in lieu fund is awarded to the project.

MDE has said that the money for living shoreline type projects is available and that funding for the Grey’s Creek Nature Park shoreline project is possible, though MDE has not made a firm commitment on that money.

“It would be totally funded by MDE,” said Recreation and Parks Director Sharon Demar Reilly.

Worcester County and Maryland Department of Natural Resources staff would provide some in-kind services.

The project should cost about $80,000 to convert 670 feet of the deteriorated and failing existing timber bulkhead to a living shoreline.

The question facing county park planners is whether that grant will be awarded.

“If we’re not able to obtain the funding we’d put it on hold,” Reilly said.

The 430-foot long canal reaches from Grey’s Creek to a convenient location near the farmhouse to allow easy boat access to the water.

The bulkhead at the end of the canal, nearest the house, will be replaced later with traditional hard bulkheading, to provide small boat access to the creek.

“We want to use that as a kayak and canoe launching area,” said Worcester County planner Katharine Munson.

The living shoreline work will require removal of part of the bulkhead, as well as removal of dirt behind the bulkhead to restore a more natural slope and offer tidal marsh habitat.

The living shoreline work on the majority of the bulkhead would restore tidal marsh that was eliminated when the canal was installed decades ago, offering more habitat for fish and other wildlife, as well as improving water quality.

“Tidal wetlands are really important for nutrient cycling and capturing stormwater before it rushes into the water, as well as sediment control…a lot of our bay organisms rely on the tidal interface for nesting and feeding and nurseries and we’re losing that,” Munson said. 

Native marsh plants will be planted and educational signs installed.

“It will probably close in a little bit and become more shallow. It’ll be restored to a much more natural environment,” said Munson.

The nature park’s living shoreline, one of a few demonstration projects in the county, would also be educational for park visitors, according to the grant proposal.

The living shoreline restoration will also make aesthetic improvements to the boat access canal.

With 50 percent of the Isle of Wight Bay shoreline hardened through bulkheads or rip rap, county staffers hope that the living shoreline at Grey’s Creek will inspire the county’s waterfront property owners to replace their own bulkheads or rip rap with a more natural system.

“It’s something people can come and see,” said Munson.

The 2006 Worcester County Comprehensive Plan calls for better shoreline management, said County Commissioner Linda Busick. Grey’s Creek Nature Park lies in Busick’s district.

The State of Maryland bought the Weidman Farm, over 500 bayfront acres just south of the Delaware border, in fall 2006 for $6.3 million and then deeded it to Worcester County.

The park master plan also includes several other projects, which are ranked behind the living shoreline, but those improvements must wait.

“There’s been no Open Space funding, so they will have to be done in stages, and they’ll have to look for grant funding where they can find it,” said Busick.

Plans call for low-impact changes to benefit visitors as well as a more extensive project to renovate the existing house on the property into educational classrooms.

“One of the first projects they want to pursue is a trail system from the house to the water,” Busick said.

County park planners also anticipate building a raised boardwalk through the natural areas of the park. The last, and most costly, project is the renovation of the house.