It is quite amazing the number of places that are just a short trip from Bethany Beach that people know little or nothing about. All you have to do is to head inland a bit to the areas we know as the “inland bays.”
A very nice local spot is a trip to the James Farm Ecological Preserve. I am sure I’ve driven by the James Farm Ecological Preserve sign on Route 26 at least a dozen times or more in my travels here in Delaware, but I never took the time to stop by and see what it has to offer until recently.
The James Farm Ecological Preserve is one of these well-kept secrets that keep turning up around the Bethany Beach area. The James Farm Ecological Preserve is about a 10-minute drive from downtown Bethany Beach. Just follow the instructions in “How to Get There.”
The James Farm Ecological Preserve has over 150 acres of woodlands, pasture, and marshlands, as well of at least two miles of well-maintained and level trails.
You are likely to see deer, fox, raccoons, opossums, and squirrels with any luck, or at least their footprints. The James Farm Ecological Preserve is the focal point of the Center for the Inland Bay’s educational efforts. As well as being a great place to visit, the James Farm Ecological Preserve provides educational programs for schoolchildren, including wetland activities, estuarine ecology, and watershed studies, as well as guided nature walks.
One of the major objectives undertaken at the James Farm Ecological Preserve is an attempt to extend the mature forest that exists there. They are in the midst of a massive reforestation project to provide additional habitats for migratory songbirds and other animals. There is a sheltered stand especially for bird watching. Bring your binoculars.
As we walked along, we saw a great variety of birds and plant life in the preserve. Particularly pretty were the honeysuckle and pink morning glories. On our hike, we didn’t encounter any wildlife, other than lots of birds. This was probably due to the time of day. We did see a few interesting footprints in the sand of various creatures that had come by at one time or another.
There is an amazing variety of plant life in the preserve. On you way through the woods, look for specimens of southern red oak, American holly, sassafras, pignut hickory and black cherry trees. Many of the trees and plants are marked with well-written signs so that they are easy to identify.
Our hike took us down a well-marked and level trail through a meadow and into the woods, with two or three species of colorful butterflies flitting past us, sampling the flowers in the vegetation.
As we walked through the woods, we came out on the beach of the Indian River Bay. Along the way to the beach is a great lookout platform that gives a superb view of the bay. Do make it a point to go up on it. Here is where your binoculars and camera can really pay off.
The beach on the Indian River Bay is a critical spawning habitat for horseshoe crabs. If you go there in June, you will likely see them — an amazing denizen the size of a soup plate, from the ancient past. June is the mating season, but they can be found in the bay at other times of year. The eggs (and they lay millions) form a substantial part of the food supply for some of the sea birds. The crabs are quite fearsome looking, but utterly harmless. However, they can be a bit of a surprise if you step on one when wading through the water. While I was there, the shore birds were feasting on horseshoe crab eggs at the water’s edge.
A pair of sneakers will be fine for walking, as all of the trails are in excellent condition, and on level ground. During the right part of the summer, a good insect repellent might not be out of order.
The Preserve is “dog friendly,” so you can bring your four-footed friend along. Do remember to bring water for the dog, and check them for ticks when you get home, especially if you have one of those low-to-the-ground, fluffy ones like I do. The dog needs to be on a leash, and don’t forget to clean up after them.
The preserve is a carry-in, carryout facility, so if you bring you lunch, take your trash back with you. There are picnic tables near the entrance, as well as in the beach area.
How do we get there?
Start from Bethany Beach and go west on Route 26. This leads us to the town of Ocean View. At the second stoplight, turn north (right) on Central Avenue. This becomes Cedar Neck Road after you cross the canal. Proceed about 2.3 miles north from the stoplight. The James Farm Ecological Preserve is on the left. Pull into the parking lot, as the other roads in the preserve are closed to vehicular traffic. The signs indicate the trails.