Fresh Pond restricted through 2010

Delaware Seashore State Park is mainly the marina and beaches around the Indian River Inlet. However, the park has a stepchild along the north borders of the Salt Pond as well — the approximately 800-acre Fresh Pond area.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) closed the eastern entrance early this summer, opening a new parking lot on the west side of the area.

There is still a meadow with mown trails on the west side — a good spot for horseback riding. However, as DNREC officials recently confirmed, the fire roads through the woods and the area around the ponds are now closed as well, until the Indian River Inlet Bridge project is complete.

The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) expects to finish the new bridge by 2010, a one-year extension to the initial timeline.

In the meantime, DelDOT is creating some new wetland areas at Fresh Pond.

The Army Corps of Engineers requires this sort of wetland mitigation, to offset impacts that would naturally accompany most bridge projects, and the state has used Fresh Pond for this sort of mitigation in the past.

As DNREC’s Steve Schilly pointed out, Fresh Pond isn’t a park, exactly, although it is part of Delaware Seashore.

The main entrance is actually an access road to an electric substation — and the ponds themselves are actually old borrow pits, Schilly added.

According to Delaware Seashore’s Ken Farrell, some previous owner drained and filled the real Fresh Pond long before the state purchased the area.

Schilly recognized that public use would be disrupted, but noted the existence of other borrow pits around the site — dry ones that are potential safety hazards — that would be smoothed over as part of work under way at Fresh Pond.

“The important thing to remember is that the end result of these efforts will be to improve the park,” he said.

Although the closures will disrupt public use for several years, Farrell suggested there’d always been some debate regarding how to use the park anyway. There’s the fishing, and some limited access to duck hunting (no blinds on the site) and, as noted, horseback riding areas.

Farrell said other people had suggested softball fields or tennis courts instead — or, with Fresh Pond’s strategic location amid increasingly built-out southeastern Sussex, Schilly suggested the public might one day decide some or all of that open area had attained the status of rare natural resource, and perhaps labeled as a reserve.

By all indications, the state will be considering what to do with the area after 2010.

In the meantime, Fresh Pond should save the state a little cash they might otherwise have to spend to truck materials over longer distances — both ways.

Outgoing, the area has been pegged as one of several potential spoils sites for the pending Assawoman Canal dredging project.

Incoming, an engineer for the Indian River Inlet Bridge project, David Duke, said he planned to truck materials from the Fresh Pond to the bridge, for DelDOT’s use in building the access roads that will (slightly) shift traffic eastward and away from pending construction.

(For more information on the Indian River Inlet Bridge project, visit www.indianriverinletbridge.com on the Internet.)